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About colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most deadly form of cancer, but it doesn’t have to be: It’s preventable and curable. Everyone over the age of 50 should be screened for colorectal cancer.

Types of colorectal cancer screenings

Screening can prevent colorectal cancer by detecting polyps (abnormal growths) before they become cancerous or detect cancer in its early stages, when treatment is most effective.
There are several types of screening procedures for colorectal cancer:

Colonoscopy: This is a procedure which enables a doctor (usually a gastroenterologist) to view your entire colon. A colonoscopy can help diagnose and/or evaluate various gastrointestinal disorders (such as colon polyps, colon cancer, diverticulosis, inflammatory bowel disease, bleeding, change in bowel habits, abdominal pain and obstruction), explain abnormal X-rays or CT scans and provide therapy. During a colonoscopy, your doctor can locate abnormalities in your colon (such as precancerous polyps), as well as remove them.

Sigmoidoscopy: This is a procedure using a sigmoidoscope, which is a slender, lighted tube about the thickness of a finger. It is placed into the lower part of the colon through the rectum. This allows your doctor to check the inside of your rectum and lower part of your colon for cancer or polyps. A sigmoidoscopy only evaluates about one-third of the colon. This test is often done without any sedation, and requires you to take an enema or other prep to clean out the lower colon.

Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): These tests are used to detect blood in stool that cannot be seen with the naked eye. During a FIT or FOBT, you provide a portion of one to three bowel movements to your doctor for testing.

Screening recommendations

Routine preventive screenings can help keep you healthy. OHSU recommends the following screening tests for colorectal cancer, beginning at age 50, or at age 45 for African-Americans:

  • Screening colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year

If you have questions about which screenings are right for you, talk to your primary care provider.

For more information about preventing colorectal cancer, please visit the American College of Gastroenterology; for colonoscopy options, risk factors and more visit the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.