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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Colorectal Cancer - Exams and Tests

If your doctor thinks you may have colorectal cancer, he or she will ask you questions about your medical history and give you a physical exam. Other tests may include:

  • A colonoscopy. Your doctor uses a lighted scope to view the inside of your entire colon. Polyps can be removed during this test. A colonoscopy is recommended when another screening test shows that you may have colorectal cancer.4
  • A sigmoidoscopy. Your doctor uses a lighted scope to view the lower part of your intestine. Doctors can also remove polyps during this test.
  • A barium enema. A whitish liquid with barium is inserted through your rectum into your intestine. The barium outlines the inside of the colon so that it can be seen on an X-ray.
  • A biopsy. A sample of tissue is taken from the inside of your intestine and examined under a microscope. A doctor called a pathologist can look at the tissue sample and see if it contains cancer.
  • A complete blood count, which is a blood test. It is used to look into symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, anemia, bruising, or weight loss.

For people who have an increased risk for colorectal cancer, regular colonoscopy is the recommended screening test. It allows your doctor to remove polyps (polypectomy) and take tissue samples at the same time.

When you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your doctor may order other tests to find out if the cancer has spread. These tests include:

Early detection

Routine screening can reduce deaths from colorectal cancer. Some screening tests find and remove polyps before they can turn into cancer. Other screening tests look for early signs of cancer. Colorectal cancer has a much better chance of being successfully treated when it is found early.

Stool tests look for signs of cancer. If used as recommended, these tests may find cancer early, when treatment works better. Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy are tests that find and remove polyps to stop them from turning into cancer. Virtual colonoscopy finds polyps. With stool tests and virtual colonoscopy, if there are abnormal findings, you will need to have a colonoscopy to remove any polyps.

Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you. People with a higher risk for colorectal cancer, such as African Americans and people with a strong family history of colon cancer, may need to start routine testing before age 50 and have it more often.

Colon Cancer: Which Screening Test Should I Have?

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 29, 2013
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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