Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer Screening

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Colorectal cancer screening is one of the most important things people can do for their health. Detecting cancer early through screening drastically changes how treatable colorectal cancer is. Screening could even save a person’s life.

While a colonoscopy is the preferred colorectal cancer screening exam because it can find cancer and remove polyps, some patients choose other tests for various reasons. 

Colon cancer preventive tests include:

  • Traditional colonoscopy
  • Virtual colonoscopy
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy

Stool-based screening tests include:

  • Fecal immunochemical tests (FIT)
  • Cologuard (stool DNA test)
  • Fecal occult blood tests 

Patients should talk to their doctor about the right test for them.

Focus on Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is an exam that detects colorectal cancer or finds colon polyps before they become cancer.

A colonoscopy involves insertion of a scope with a tiny camera throughout the entire colon. It’s the most popular colon cancer screening test, taken by millions each year. 

An advantage of a colonoscopy is that the physician can remove precancerous polyps found during the procedure. 

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s highly skilled gastroenterology team has many years of colonoscopy experience. With a modern outpatient clinic and endoscopy area, we’re capable of providing immediate and expert care for any patient who needs screening or is concerned about colorectal cancer. In addition, all of our physicians have advanced training in the field. 

What to Expect

We will discuss in detail with each patient how to prepare for a colonoscopy (called bowel prep). The day before, patients must cleanse the bowel so that the test can be as accurate as possible. 

Patients are sedated during the exam and should not feel any pain, but some patients experience slight discomfort or bloating after the exam. 

When to Have a Colonoscopy

We recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 45 for both men and women who are at average risk for developing colorectal cancer.

Patients at an increased risk of colorectal cancer should begin colorectal cancer screening before age 45 or be screened more often.

Common increased risk factors include:

  • Family history of inherited colorectal cancer syndromes
  • Strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease

Patients should discuss their family and medical history with their doctor. Screening is extremely important because colorectal cancer is highly curable when detected early. 

As guidelines from the American Cancer Society have recently changed, patients younger than 50 should check with their insurance company to determine whether they’re covered for a screening before the age of 50.

For questions about when to be screened, contact our Cancer Answer Line at 1-888-980-6050. UT Southwestern also offers genetic counseling and testing for those with questions about their family history of cancer and other diseases.