Colon Cancer Screening

Colon Cancer Screening

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colon cancer is one of the five most common cancers in men and women in the U.S and one of the leading causes of cancer death. The ACS reports that almost as many women as men are diagnosed with colon cancer each year.

The need for cancer screenings will increase as you get older. Screening differs from testing in that a screening is performed when someone is at risk for developing a disease, not when they exhibit symptoms. Once symptoms are present, diagnostic testing is performed.

Screening requirements are different for men and women, and will vary based on your age and any pre-existing conditions you have that may make you more susceptible to certain types of cancer. It is also important to determine if you may be at a higher than average risk for cancer due to your family history. By finding cancer early, you have the best chances of treating the condition before it spreads.

Talk to your doctor about your risk for colon cancer and the right time for you to undergo colon cancer screening.

What screening options are available?

There are options when it comes to colon cancer screening. Talking to your doctor about your medical history and the need for certain tests is an important part of the cancer prevention and early detection. While there may be standard recommendations regarding screenings at certain ages, it is important to stay in close communication with your doctor regarding the need for earlier screenings if you are at an increased risk.

If your doctor determines that you are at average-risk for developing colon cancer, there are alternatives to colonoscopy that are effective in identifying early signs of colon cancer. People 50 or older who have no relatives with colon cancer and no history of polyps are considered average risk.

Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

A fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is performed annually and is effective in detecting hidden blood in the stool, an early sign of cancer. FIT only identifies blood from the lower intestines. Food and medicines do not interfere with FIT, improving accuracy and causing less false positive results than other tests. A positive FIT would lead to additional tests, including colonoscopy, to determine if cancer or some other causes like hemorrhoids or ulcers are causing the positive FIT.

A FIT can be done at home with a kit provided by a doctor’s office. Your sample will be sent to a lab for analysis.


A colonoscopy is an important screening examination for gastrointestinal disorders including rectal bleeding, abnormal bowel movements, diverticulosis, stomach pain and inflammatory bowel disease.

It is also a key test for detecting colon cancer. The procedure allows a doctor, usually a gastroenterologist, to see and examine the entire colon. Along with imaging, a colonoscopy can also remove lesions or polyps.

  FOBT/FIT  Colonoscopy 
Recommended Age  50+
Contact you insurance provider
Contact you insurance provider
Testing Location
Outpatient procedure
Prescription Requirements
Requires prescription
Requires prescription
Testing Frequency
Every year (With negative results)
Every 10 years (With negative results)
 A FIT does not require any specific diet or medication preparation since it will only react to a specific type of blood.
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.
  • Reduces death from colorectal cancer
  • Safe, available and easy to complete
  • Finds cancer early by finding blood in the stool
  • Finds most cancers early when done every year 
  • Reduces death from colorectal cancer
  • Can prevent cancer by removing polyps (or abnormal growths in the colon) during test
  • Examines entire colon
  • Finds most cancers or polyps that are present at the time of the test
  • May produce positive test results, even when no polyps or cancer are in the colon
  • When the test is positive, a colonoscopy is required
  • People testing themselves come into brief close contact with stool samples on a test kit
  • Stomach pain, gas or bloating is possible before, during or after test
  • Must be performed at a hospital or clinic, usually with sedation or anesthesia, and someone must help transport the patient home after the test
  • A clear liquid diet is required before test
  • Must take medication that will cause loose bowel movements to clean out the colon prior to test
  • Likely need to take a day off work/activities
  • Small risk of serious complications (for example, bleeding or perforated colon) 

Source: CDC

Both options require a referral from your doctor. If you need a doctor, fill out the form to the right to request an appointment or call (888) 487-9718.

Already scheduled a colonoscopy? Find out about the procedure and what to expect.

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