Colon Cancer Screening:  Beyond the Colonoscopy
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Published on March 10, 2017

stethescope and tablet that says colonoscopy

Colon Cancer Screening: Beyond the Colonoscopy

When it comes to colon cancer screening, colonoscopy is the gold standard. However, with at-home screening tests available – both approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – you now have more options than ever before.

How do you know which is the best one for you?

“Any screening is better than no screening, but at the end of the day colonoscopy is the preferred test,” says R. Towner Lapp, MD, a gastroenterologist at Avera Medical Group Gastroenterology. “It allows us to not only identify colon cancer at an earlier stage, but because we can directly see the intestinal lining, we can also identify precancerous polyps and remove them immediately.”

Colonoscopies are recommended once every 10 years for every man and woman starting at age 50, and more often for those with a higher risk for colon cancer.

Learn more about your options and discuss the pros and cons with your provider before making a decision.

How the FIT At-Home Test Works

The Fecal Immunochemical Test® (FIT) detects blood in the stool through a stool sample, which may signal an abnormality such as colon cancer. Much like an at-home pregnancy test, the FIT test can be taken in the privacy of your own home and results appear within minutes.

The Cologuard is Another At-Home Choice

The Cologuard® test takes it up a notch. Not only does Cologuard check for blood in the stool, but it also looks for abnormalities in DNA. A positive test indicates that you’re even more likely to have a potential colon cancer.

“These tests are good options for average-risk individuals who are unable or unwilling to have a colonoscopy,” adds Lapp. “You’re considered average risk if there’s no one in your primary family – mom, dad, brother, sister – who has ever had colorectal cancer or advanced polyps.”

While some may prefer the simplicity and privacy of the FIT or Cologuard test, Dr. Lapp said it’s important to note one thing. “If either test comes back positive – you’ll still need to come in for a colonoscopy so we can take a closer look. If it comes back negative that’s also not a guarantee that there’s nothing wrong with your colon. That’s why – at the end of the day – colonoscopy is the preferred test.”

What the Signs of Colon Cancer Look Like

Traditionally, colon cancer has been more common among older adults. However, a recent study published by the American Cancer Society shows a significant increase in colon cancer among young adults. For this reason, it’s also important to be aware of the symptoms and any noticeable changes in your body no matter your age.

Symptoms of colon cancer may include:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
  • Bloating
  • Blood in the stool, which may make it look dark
  • Feeling like you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  • Pain, tenderness or cramping in the lower abdomen
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue

Oftentimes, these symptoms are caused by conditions other than colon cancer, but if you have any concerns talk with your provider. You can also learn more about all the possible ways to prevent colon cancer with Avera.

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