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Colon Cancer Screening: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. That's the lower part of your digestive system. It often starts with 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. Experts say that adults should start regular screening at age 50 and stop at age 74. If you are at higher risk, your doctor may recommend you start screening before age 50 or continue after age 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?

  • 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 may 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 is a test that allows your doctor to 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.

If you are age 75 or older, you can work with your doctor to decide if screening is a good option.

Talk with your doctor about when you need to be tested. And discuss which tests are right for you.

Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent testing if you:

  • Have had colorectal cancer before.
  • Have had colon polyps.
  • Have symptoms of colorectal cancer. These include blood in your stool and changes in your bowel habits.
  • Have a parent, brother or sister, or child with colon polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • Have a bowel disease. This includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
  • Have a rare polyp syndrome that runs in families, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
  • Have had radiation treatments to the belly or pelvis.

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

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