It's the simple truth: screening tests can save lives. And though tests for colorectal cancer may seem awkward or feel uncomfortable, the alternative – not screening – is a far worse option. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer screening is one of the key reasons for the steady reduction in deaths from this cancer.
The ACS and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommend regular screening tests for men and women starting at age 50. If you have risk factors for this cancer, such as a family history, you may need to start screening even sooner. No matter what your risk, you should talk to your doctor about when and how you should be screened for colorectal cancer.
During this test, a doctor uses a flexible, lighted instrument to examine the rectum and the entire colon. If a polyp or any other abnormal growth is found, the doctor can remove it. The growth can then be examined to test for cancer cells. According to the NCI, this is the most sensitive screening test currently available.
This x-ray is taken after a barium solution has been put in the colon and air has been added to expand it slightly. This makes the walls of the colon show more clearly on the x-ray, so a doctor can determine if there are any unusual growths. A barium enema may not show smaller growths, and a colonoscopy may be needed if this test detects anything unusual.
During this test, a doctor uses a flexible, lighted instrument to examine the inner walls of the rectum and lower colon. Because this test examines only the lower part of the colon, any growths in the upper part of the colon would not be detected. If an unusual growth is found, a colonoscopy may be recommended.
Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)
To do this test, a doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum and checks for any irregular or abnormally firm areas.
The ACS does not recommend DRE as a stand-alone test for colorectal cancer. It should be done before a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
Your doctor can help you decide on the best diagnostic tests for you, and how often to have them. This decision depends on factors such as your age, medical history, general health and colorectal cancer risk factors.