Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer screening is strongly recommended by most medical experts. There are several effective testing methods available for people who are not exhibiting symptoms. As a general guideline, screening should begin at age 50 for individuals of average risk, and earlier for individuals who have been identified as having a heightened risk of developing the condition.

The current colorectal cancer screening methods vary considerably with regard to the recommended frequency, preparation, need for sedation, thoroughness and follow-up care. A decision on the best approach for an individual should be made with the guidance of a physician. While some people may view certain options as uncomfortable or inconvenient, it’s important to keep in mind that routine testing can be lifesaving, and the more thorough the test is, the more likely it will be to detect precancerous masses (polyps).

Colorectal Screening
Colorectal cancer screening is important for early detection and cancer prevention.

Some of the most frequently recommended colorectal cancer screening tests include: 

  • Standard colonoscopy – After a patient is sedated, a flexible tube (colonoscope) with a tiny camera attached to the tip is inserted into the rectum, enabling a physician to view the interior of the entire colon and rectum on an external monitor to detect polyps and other potential abnormalities. If necessary, a physician can pass special instruments through the colonoscope to remove polyps or obtain tissue samples for biopsy.
  • Sigmoidoscopy – A flexible tube (sigmoidoscope) with a small camera attached to the end is inserted into a patient’s rectum, allowing a physician to view the interior of the rectum and lower half of the colon. If small polyps are detected, the physician may remove them during the procedure for further testing. If cancer is suspected, a follow-up colonoscopy may be recommended.
  • Double-contrast barium enema – Barium sulfate (a chalky liquid that provides contrast for imaging) is placed in a patient’s colon through a small, flexible tube that is inserted through the rectum. The colon is then expanded with air pumped through the same tube. Next, X-ray images of the lining of the colon are taken, which a physician will review for evidence of cancer. If polyps or other suspicious areas are noted, a follow-up colorectal cancer screening test may be recommended.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – A stool sample is collected and tested in a lab for the presence of occult (hidden) blood, which may indicate the presence of a bleeding tumor. If blood is detected in the sample, follow-up testing may be recommended.
  • Virtual colonoscopy – A series of computerized tomography (CT) scans are taken of a patient’s colon after a small tube (catheter) is inserted into the rectum and used to fill the colon with air to improve image quality. A physician will then review the images to check for signs of colorectal cancer.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our scientists and clinicians are working continually to develop new and better methods of screening for colorectal cancer, including highly sensitive tests that can detect and remove polyps in very early stages before they develop into adenomas. As such, screening can sometimes accomplish two important goals: early detection and cancer prevention.

If you’d like to speak with a physician about colorectal cancer screening, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. No referrals are required.