Published on October 23, 2017

Why you should be screened for colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer screening can help prevent cancer.

Dr. Lichtenstein“Some colorectal screening tests are good at finding cancer early, when it’s most easily treated,” says Steven Lichtenstein, DO, Gastroenterologist at Mercy Fitzgerald and Mercy Philadelphia. “Other tests can actually help prevent the disease.”

During those preventive kinds of tests, doctors can find precancerous polyps in the colon and remove them before they become full-blown cancer.

Whichever colorectal screening test you choose, you should have it when you turn 50. If you’re African American—or your doctor says you’re at high risk for the disease—have the test at 45.

Here are some common colorectal screening tests. Talk with your doctor about which one is right for you and how often you should be tested:

Colonoscopy. Dr. Lichtenstein calls this test “the gold standard” because it is the best test for finding and removing polyps from the entire colon. Its main downside is the prep work you must do to empty your bowels before the test, though the prep is a lot easier now than in the past.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy. Similar to a colonoscopy, this test can only examine the inside of the lower colon, which means it could miss polyps deeper inside. You still have to do the bowel prep work for this test and if a polyp or cancer is found, you’ll need to have a colonoscopy.

FIT test. This test detects blood in your stool, a possible sign of cancer. You can do the test at home. You place a tiny amount of stool in a vial or on a card using a small stick or probe, and you mail the sample to our lab. If results are positive, you’ll need a colonoscopy.