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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Colon Polyps - Exams and Tests

Screening for colon cancer

Screening for colon cancer with a single test or a combination of tests reduces your chance of having complications and dying from colon cancer. Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone between the ages of 50 and 75 who has a normal risk for colon cancer. People with a higher risk, such as those with a strong family history of colon cancer, may need to be tested sooner. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.

If you are between the ages of 50 and 75, screening may lower your risk of dying from colon cancer. Screening options include the following tests.

  • Stool tests, such as:
    • A fecal occult blood test (FOBT).
    • A fecal immunochemical test (FIT).
    • A stool DNA test (sDNA).
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy.
  • Colonoscopy.
  • Computed tomographic colonography (CTC), known as virtual colonoscopy.

The method of screening that you have depends on your personal preferences, your doctor's preferences, and what the clinic or office you go to is able to do.

Colon Cancer: Which Screening Test Should I Have?

People with a higher risk for colon cancer, such as those with a strong family history of colon cancer, may need to be tested sooner. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.

If you have a family history of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), you should start screening tests at age 10 or 12.

If you have a family history of hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), you should have a colonoscopy every 1 to 2 years starting at age 20 to 25, or 10 years younger than the age at which the youngest family member who has colorectal cancer was diagnosed, whichever comes first.

Talk with your doctor. Decide with him or her when to start and stop screening for colon cancer. These decisions will depend on how old you are, your family history, any health problems you have, and the benefits you can expect from regular screening.

Follow-up testing

If a biopsy of polyps obtained during screening reveals only hyperplastic polyps of any size, routine follow-up screening is all that is needed. These polyps do not become cancerous.

Most doctors agree that if you have had one or more adenomatous polyps removed, you probably need regular follow-up colonoscopy exams every few years. This type of polyp is more likely to turn into cancer, but that risk is still very low. How often you need a colonoscopy may depend on the number and size of the polyps, your age, your health, and other risk factors that you may have for polyps. Talk with your doctor about the follow-up testing schedule that is right for you.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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