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Confused about Colon Cancer Screening?

November 07, 2019

Colon Illustration

By Kim Polacek

Several organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, offer differing recommendations on colon cancer screening. So when should you get tested? The American College of Physicians is now providing clarity.

The group analyzed screening recommendations, published between 2014 and 2018, from six organizations: American College of Physicians, American College of Radiology, Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American Cancer Society and Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. In the end, the American College of Physicians issued a guidance statement suggesting average-risk adults ages 50 to 70 should get regular screenings for colon cancer using one of the following:

  • FIT (Fecal Immunochemical Test) kit or high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test every two years
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 10 years plus FIT every two years

FIT kits are available by prescription through your physician and offer simple directions on how to collect a stool sample. The test checks for hidden blood in the stool, which can be an early sign of cancer. Results from FIT kits are typically available within a few days.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy procedures are more invasive but allow doctors to see inside the rectum and colon to look for polyps and signs of cancer. The procedure is routine and done on an outpatient basis. Patients can expect:

  • Sleep medication is typically given to help you relax.
  • You’ll lie on your left side with your knees tucked near your chest.
  • The doctor will use a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a video camera on the end to gently inflate the colon with air to provide a better view.
  • If suspicious-looking polyps are discovered, they can easily be removed.
  • You can go home after a colonoscopy but are not allowed to drive because the sedative can last up to 24 hours. Plan to have someone with you to drive you home.
  • The procedure can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the findings.

It is important if you are 50 or older to discuss the screening options with your doctor to determine what is best for you.