Getting back on track with colorectal cancer screening
For many patients, the COVID-19 pandemic created another barrier to getting the medical tests they need each year. One important screening test is for colorectal cancer, or cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States, not including skin cancers.
Getting tested for colorectal cancer is one of the best ways to combat the disease, because early treatment is important. Adults over the age of 50 should get screened, and your primary care provider may also recommend screening if you are at higher risk, such as if someone in your family had colorectal cancer.
How do we screen for colorectal cancer?
For patients at average risk of colorectal cancer, these three tests are effective in finding cancer when it may be easier to treat.
- Colonoscopy. In a colonoscopy, a provider will use a long flexible tube with a camera on the end to examine the inside of your colon. The camera will be able to find not only cancer, but also non-cancerous growths called polyps, which could turn into cancer later. We don’t do this test at our health centers, so your provider will make a referral for you.
- FIT-DNA Test. This new test scans a stool sample for DNA changes in cells that could be signs of cancer. You can take a stool sample at home (you will receive a free kit in the mail for this) and send it to the lab for testing. You will receive your results one week after you send your sample, and if the lab finds DNA changes or blood, your provider will refer you for a colonoscopy. You will need to repeat this test every three years.
- FIT Test. The FIT test is a stool test you can do at home, also with a free kit that you will receive in the mail. Once you have your stool sample, a lab will scan for evidence of blood in your stool and you should get your results in a week. If there is evidence of blood, your provider will refer you for a colonoscopy. The FIT test is recommended once per year.
Your provider will talk with you about which screening test is best for you, based on your medical history and other factors.
If you missed your colorectal cancer test this year, make an appointment and let your provider know. You can learn more about the testing options and decide which is best for you. Call your health center or use MyChart to make your appointment for a colorectal cancer test today.