Beginning at age 50, you should have routine screenings for colorectal cancer. There are several options for screening.
Stool based tests include:
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) yearly
- Guaiac fecal occult blood test yearly
- Stool DNA test every 3 years
Structural examinations include:
- Colonoscopy every 3-10 years depending on if and which polyps are found.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years.
If you have a positive result on a screening test that is not a colonoscopy, further evaluation should be performed on a timely basis with a colonoscopy test to take a look at your entire colon. You may take medication to make you sleepy and relaxed before the procedure.
If a doctor sees anything inside your colon or rectum that looks questionable, they'll take a biopsy to find out if it's cancerous. A biopsy is a routine type of test used to diagnose cancer and also to see whether an existing cancer has spread to the surrounding tissue.
The doctor uses a special instrument to take out a small sample of tissue. The sample is sent to a lab to determine if there's any cancer. The screening and biopsy together take less than an hour.
Sometimes doctors use a tiny needle to take a biopsy, and they may use a CT scan or ultrasound to guide them. A CT scan is a powerful X-ray that takes detailed pictures of the inside of your body. An ultrasound makes images using soundwaves.
After a Biopsy
You'll go home the same day as your procedure. You can expect to feel some discomfort and have some light bleeding for a day or two. Serious complications are rare, but it is possible to get an infection or injury to your colon or rectum.
Contact your doctor right away if you have:
- Fever or chills
- Heavy bleeding (greater than a teaspoon at a time)
- Severe pain
- Bloated abdomen
It may take a few days to get the results of your biopsy. If you do have cancer, the doctor will determine how aggressive it is and whether it started in your colon or spread there from somewhere else.
You may need additional testing before you and your doctor can determine the best treatment plan.