Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death. But when it's found at an early stage before it has had the chance to spread, the five-year survival rate is about 90%, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The best way to find colorectal cancer early is through screening tests. The ACS says people of average risk should have their first test at age 45. How often you should be screened can depend on which test you choose.
Here are five testing options.
Colonoscopy is the only test that can both find and prevent cancer.
During the test, a narrow, flexible tube with a light and camera is inserted into your rectum and guided through your colon (don't worry, you'll be sedated). Small instruments can be passed through the scope to biopsy or remove any suspicious polyps.
Advantages of a colonoscopy include:
CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
This test involves a CT scan of your colon and rectum. Special computer programs create a detailed view of the inside of the colon and rectum that can reveal polyps or cancer.
A colonography is not as invasive as a colonoscopy, but the same type of bowel prep is needed before the test.
Advantages of colonography include:
Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
The FIT checks for signs of cancer by looking for occult (hidden) blood in the stool.
Advantages of the FIT include:
Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)
Another stool-based test, the gFOBT looks for signs of blood in the stool through a chemical reaction.
Advantages of the gFOBT include:
Stool DNA test
Also a stool-based test, this looks for certain abnormal sections of DNA from cancer or polyp cells.
The stool DNA test needs to be done every three years.
Advantages of the stool DNA test include:
Talk to your doctor about which test might be most appropriate for you. You also should check with your insurance plan to find out which tests are covered and at what age.
What risk factors do you have for colorectal cancer? Find out by taking this assessment.
Sources: American Cancer Society; American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy