Colon Cancer Prevention and Screening

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. However, if it is caught early through proper screening this cancer can be treated effectively.

Early detection through screening

So how do you catch colorectal cancer early, especially if you have no signs that something is wrong in your body? This is done through a process called screening. Colon cancer screening is a process to test or examine for the presence of cancer. With appropriate and timely screening, colorectal cancer is one of the most treatable cancers!

Polyps and early colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer usually begins with non-cancerous growths in the lining of the colon and rectum. These growths are called polyps. It can sometimes take up to 10 years or more for these polyps to change into cancer. Therefore, screenings are an important step in helping prevent colorectal cancer. When these polyps are found early, they can be removed through a simple outpatient procedure called a colonoscopy.

When should I begin screening?

Guidelines have changed in the last few years, and it is now recommended that men and women get screened at age 45. Some people will need to get screened sooner. The group that should be screened earlier than age 45 includes people with a strong family history of colorectal cancer (think mom, dad, aunts, uncles, or cousins on either side of your family) or a condition that you were born with that puts you at a higher risk of developing this type of cancer. Speak to your primary care provider about when the appropriate time would be for you to get screened.  

How do I get screened for colon cancer?

There are two main ways to test if there is cancer in your colon, stool-based tests and visual exams. Your primary care provider will let you know what type of screening test is best for you.  

Stool-based tests

These tests allow you to collect a sample of your poop in your own home. Your doctor’s office will provide you with the kit needed to collect the sample. You place a sample of your poop on the card and then mail it into a laboratory with an envelope provided for you in the kit. The results are then shared with your primary care doctor.  

Stool-based tests include:

  • The FIT test (Fecal Immunochemical Test)
  • The FOBT Test (Fecal Occult Blood Test) 
  • The Stool DNA Test

If any of these tests come back positive your doctor will send you for a visual test.

Visual exam

Your primary care doctor cannot perform these visual tests and will send you to a gastroenterologist who specializes in taking care of the rectum and colon. These visual screening tests are done in an outpatient hospital setting. You will be asleep when these tests are performed. These tests can take as little as 20 minutes. In these tests, the doctor inserts a small scope or camera into your body through your anus and then moves this scope through your rectum and colon.

Visual tests include:

  • The Flexible Sigmoidostomy which looks at the rectum and part of the colon
  • The Colonoscopy which looks at the rectum and all the colon

These visual tests involve some prep work the afternoon before the test is performed. In the past, many people complained about this prep, but great strides have been made to make it easier. It involves taking several doses of a laxative helps clear out your colon and rectum so the doctor can see the inside lining or the rectum and colon to look for polyps.

If the doctor sees any abnormal growths or polyps, he/she can remove them during the procedure.  These polyps are then sent to a laboratory and will be studied and looked at under a microscope to determine if it is cancer. Your gastroenterologist will have you come back to the office to review the results of these tests.


You might be wondering if there is recovery time after receiving a colonoscopy. The anesthetic that puts you to sleep during the colonoscopy will be out of your system very quickly, although you may still feel tired when you go home. You may also have some gas and feel a little bloated. You can eat after the procedure and most people are back at work the next day.

Schedule your screening today by calling UMC Southwest Gastroenterology at 806.761.0747.

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