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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Frequently Asked Questions About Colorectal Cancer

Print out these questions and answers to discuss with your doctor.

1. I'm a 45 year-old man with no family history of colorectal cancer or polyps. Should I start getting tested for colon cancer? What are the different types of tests for this cancer?

Because you don't have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, you are considered at average risk for colorectal cancer. Men with average risk should begin prevention examinations at age 50. The recommended screening tests to detect early-stage lesions and polyps for men at average risk include:

  • Fecal occult blood test This test examines the stool for blood not easily noticed by the naked eye. For men at average risk of colorectal cancer, this test should be performed every year starting at age 50.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a routine outpatient procedure in which a physician uses a sigmoidoscope (a long, flexible instrument about a 1/2-inch in diameter) to view the lining of the rectum and the lower third of the colon (called the sigmoid and descending colon). This test is usually done every 5 years and can be used in combination with the yearly fecal occult blood test.
  • Colonoscopy This is an outpatient procedure in which the rectum and the inside of the entire colon are examined. During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a long, flexible instrument about a 1/2-inch in diameter to view the lining of the colon. This test is recommended every 10 years, starting at age 50.

Other screening tests that are not as commonly used include:

  • Air contrast barium enema Sometimes, a doctor will use a test called air contrast barium enema. This test is an X-ray examination of the entire colon and rectum in which barium and air are introduced gradually into the colon by a rectal tube to improve visualization. Doctors typically recommend this test (sometimes in combination with flexible sigmoidoscopy) every five years, starting at age 50.
  • Virtual Colonoscopy This test uses a CT scanner to make images of the inside of the colon and rectum. Though it appears to be as accurate as a colonoscopy, studies are underway to see how this test compares to the other recommended screening tools.

Ask you doctor which of these tests or combination of tests is right for you.

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