colon polyps are large and cause bleeding or pain, the
only way to know if you have polyps is to have one or more tests that explore
the inside surface of your colon.
Several tests can be used to
detect colon polyps. Two of these exams,
flexible sigmoidoscopy and
colonoscopy, also can be used to collect tissue
samples (called a
biopsy) or to remove colon polyps. All the tests may
be used to screen for colon polyps and colon cancer and as follow-up tests
after colon polyps have been removed. There are two basic types of tests—stool
tests and tests that look inside your body.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT). A
fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is done to look for
microscopic amounts of blood in stool. FOBT is a simple, low-cost screening
tool for colon polyps or colon cancer. FOBT has been shown in studies to reduce
the number of deaths from colon cancer. By itself, an FOBT is not evidence of
colon polyps or colon cancer. And a negative FOBT (no blood found) does not
mean that you do not have
polyps or colorectal cancer. If a fecal occult blood test is
positive for blood in the stool, it is important to have a colonoscopy to help
your doctor find the source of the blood and remove polyps if they are
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT). This
test also looks for blood in the stool, but it is more specific than the FOBT.
There aren't as many restrictions on what you can eat before having this test,
and fewer stool samples are required. If the test is positive for blood in the
stool, you may need to have a colonoscopy.
- Stool DNA test (sDNA). This test checks for changes to the cells in the colon
by looking at DNA in the stool. Certain kinds of changes in cell DNA
happen when you have cancer. Like the other stool tests, if your test is
positive, you may need to have a colonoscopy.
Tests that look inside your body
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. Flexible sigmoidoscopy allows the doctor to look at
the lower third of the colon. During a sigmoidoscopy exam, samples of any
growths can be collected (biopsied). And precancerous and cancerous polyps can
sometimes be removed.
- Colonoscopy. This
screening method lets a doctor inspect the entire colon for polyps and cancer.
colonoscopy, samples of any growths can be collected
(biopsied). And precancerous and cancerous polyps usually can be
- Computed tomographic colonography (CTC).
This test is also called
virtual colonoscopy. A computer and X-rays make a
detailed picture of the colon to help the doctor look for polyps. If this test
finds polyps, you may need to have a colonoscopy.
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 age 50 and older who has a normal risk for colon cancer. People with a
higher risk, such as African Americans and people 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 older than 50, screening may lower
your risk of dying from colon cancer. Screening options include the following
- Stool tests, such as:
- A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year.
fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year.
- A stool DNA test
(sDNA) every 5 years.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5
- Stool test (FOBT or FIT) every year and a flexible
sigmoidoscopy every 5 years.
- Colonoscopy every 10 years.
- Computed tomographic
colonography (CTC), known as virtual colonoscopy, every 5 years.
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 African
Americans and people 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
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.
decisions about when to start and stop screening for colon cancer should be
made with your doctor. These decisions will depend on how old you are, your
family history, any health problems you may have, and the benefits you can
expect from regular screening.
biopsy of polyps obtained during screening reveals
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.