Colorectal cancer screening – testing to look for cancer before symptoms start – can help save lives. Regular screening can find colorectal cancer early when it’s small and might be easier to treat. There are several different screening options for colorectal cancer. No matter which one you choose, the important thing is to be tested.
If you’ve delayed your screening appointments or they have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, talk to your doctor about the steps you can take to safely resume these important tests.
Stool-based tests look at the stool (feces) for signs of cancer or pre-cancers. These tests are less invasive and easier to have done. But they usually need to be done more often than other types of tests.
If any of these tests show abnormal signs of blood or DNA changes, a colonoscopy will need to be done to see if you have cancer. It’s important to remember that abnormal results do not necessarily mean that you have cancer because they can be caused by a non-cancerous condition, such as ulcers or hemorrhoids.
Stool-based tests are not the best option for everyone. They are recommended for people who have an average risk for colorectal cancer. If you have a personal history of polyps, colorectal cancer runs in your family, or you have other risk factors, your health care provider may suggest that you have a visual test.
Visual (or structural) tests look inside the colon and rectum for areas that might be cancer or polyps. These tests can be done less often than stool-based tests, but they require more preparation ahead of time, and can have some risks that stool-based tests don’t have.
Regular screening is one of the most important ways to prevent colorectal cancer. If polyps are found during colorectal cancer testing, they can usually be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening can also help find cancer early, when it’s smaller and might be easier to treat. It’s important to get tested as often as recommended.
If you’re 45 or older, talk to your doctor about which screening test is right for you. Also check with your insurance company about coverage and what you might have to pay.
And no matter your age, talk to your doctor about your family medical history. People at higher risk for colorectal cancer because of family history or certain health conditions might need to start screening earlier than age 45 or be screened more often.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
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