Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Colon Cancer Screening: Care Instructions
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Colon Cancer Screening: Care Instructions

Overview

Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. That's the lower part of your digestive system. It often starts in small growths called polyps in the colon or rectum. Polyps are usually found with screening tests. Depending on the type of test, any polyps found may be removed during the tests.

Colorectal cancer usually does not cause symptoms at first. But regular tests can help find it early, before it spreads and becomes harder to treat.

Your risk for colorectal cancer gets higher as you get older. If you are not at high risk, experts recommend regular screening for adults ages 50 to 74. Talk with your doctor about your risk and when to start and stop screening. You may have one of several tests.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What are the main screening tests for colon cancer?

The screening tests are:

Stool tests.

The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is the recommended colon cancer screening test. It checks stool samples for signs of cancer. If your test is positive, you will need to have a colonoscopy.

Sigmoidoscopy.

This test lets your doctor look at the lining of your rectum and the lowest part of your colon. Your doctor uses a lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope. This test can't find cancers or polyps in the upper part of your colon. In some cases, polyps that are found can be removed. But if your doctor finds polyps, you will need to have a colonoscopy to check the upper part of your colon.

Colonoscopy.

This test lets your doctor look at the inner lining of your large intestine (rectum and colon). They use a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope to look at the colon. A colonoscopy helps find ulcers, colon polyps, tumours, and areas of inflammation or bleeding. During a colonoscopy, tissue samples can be collected (biopsy) and abnormal growths can be taken out. Colonoscopy can also be used as a screening test to check for cancer or precancerous growths in the colon or rectum (polyps).

What tests do you need?

The following guidelines are for adults who are not at high risk for colorectal cancer. You may have at least one of these tests as directed by your doctor.

  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 10 years.
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.

Who should be screened for colorectal cancer?

Your risk for colorectal cancer gets higher as you get older. If you are not at high risk, experts recommend regular screening for adults ages 50 to 74. Talk with your doctor about your risk and when to start and stop screening.

How often you need screening depends on the type of test you get:

Stool tests.
Every 2 years for FIT or gFOBT.
Tests that look inside the colon.
Every 10 years for sigmoidoscopy.
Every 10 years for colonoscopy.

Experts agree that people at higher risk may need to be tested sooner and more often. This includes people who have a strong family history of colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you and when to be tested.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have:

  • Any changes in your bowel habits.
  • Rectal bleeding.
  • Weight loss and you don't know why.
  • Pain in your abdomen.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter M541 in the search box to learn more about "Colon Cancer Screening: Care Instructions".

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.