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Five Colorectal Cancer Tests to Know

Colorectal cancer tests can find colon cancer early, while it can still be treated—even if you have no symptoms. Find out now about the different types of tests and which ones may be right for you.

March 24, 2020 | HF Healthy Living Team

Did you know colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States for both men and women combined? Colorectal cancer affects the large intestine (sometimes called the bowel or colon), the part of your digestive system that helps process the food you eat.

Most people should get a colorectal cancer test once a year, starting at age 45. Some people may need screenings at a younger age or should get them more often, depending on medical and family history.

Getting a colorectal cancer test can save your life. You may be afraid to get a colorectal cancer test because you believe it will cause discomfort. Don’t be! Many of these tests are fast, easy, and painless. If there is any discomfort, it will be brief, and you will feel better knowing you got checked.

Which of these tests are right for you? Talk to your provider.

The following material is provided by the American Cancer Society® (


Colonoscopy uses a flexible lighted tube with a small camera on the end to look at the entire length of the colon and rectum. If polyps (small growths, sometimes precancerous) are found, they may be removed during the test. To prepare for the test, you may be asked to follow a special diet for a day or two before the test. You will also need to clean out your colon with strong laxatives (called a bowel prep) and sometimes with enemas as well. Most people are sedated during the test. If nothing is found during the test, you won’t need another one for 10 years.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

This test is much like colonoscopy but looks at only part of the colon and rectum. If polyps are found, they may be removed during the test, or you may need to have a colonoscopy later. Bowel prep may be required but need not be as extensive as the one used for colonoscopy. Most people do not need to be sedated during this test. If polyps or suspicious areas are seen, a colonoscopy will be needed to look at the rest of the colon. Flexible sigmoidoscopy must be done every five years.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Test
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Double-Contrast Barium Enema

This is a type of X-ray test. It involves putting a liquid called barium into the rectum. Air is then pumped in to spread the barium through the colon in a thin, smooth layer to show better detail. Then X-rays are taken. It requires bowel prep but no sedation. If polyps or suspicious areas are seen on the test, a follow-up colonoscopy will be needed. Barium enemas also need to be repeated every five years.

CT Colonography

Also called virtual colonoscopy, this test is a scan of the colon and rectum that produces detailed cross-sectional images so the doctor can look for polyps or cancer. It requires bowel prep but no sedation. Air is pumped into the rectum and colon, and then a CT scanner is used to take images of the colon. If something is seen that may need to be biopsied, a follow-up colonoscopy will be needed. CT colonography must be done every five years.

Guaiac-Based Fecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT) and Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

This test is used to find tiny amounts of blood in the stool that could be a sign of cancer or large polyps. People take these tests at home with a kit they receive from their doctor’s office, along with instructions. A positive result will need to be followed up with a colonoscopy. However, many times the cause is a noncancerous condition, such as ulcers or hemorrhoids. Stool tests like these need to be done every year.

If you’re over the age of 45 or have a family history of colorectal cancer, don’t wait to get a test. Make an appointment with your provider today and ask about your options.

Want to test your knowledge of colorectal cancer? Take this quiz now!

Text material in this post is used with permission of the American Cancer Society® and is a shortened version of an article published on To view the full, original article, please click here.


© 2020 HF Management Services, LLC.

Healthfirst is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Healthfirst group of affiliated companies.

This health information or program is for educational purposes only and not intended to treat, diagnose, or act as a substitute for medical advice from your provider. Consult your healthcare provider and always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

“Colon Cancer Screening: What Are the Options?,” American Cancer Society. March 2, 2020.

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