Choosing a colon cancer test

DALLAS – March 13, 2017 – Decisions, decisions. If you’re close to age 50 or older, your physician has probably been asking you to get checked for colon cancer. Which test is right for you?

“Choosing a test depends on many factors,” explains medical oncologist and colon cancer specialist Dr. Muhammad Beg at UT Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. “Your doctor will want to know your personal health history and your family history of cancer. Generally, most people should start screening for colon cancer at age 50.”

There are four main tests currently in use. The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and the stool DNA test (FIT-DNA) are both done at home, in the privacy of your own bathroom. “While effective, convenient and easily accessible, these tests will require follow up if anything is detected. For most people, a colonoscopy is the best test,” Dr. Beg recommends.

The Cadillac of colon cancer testing is the full colonoscopy. While the patient is under sedation, a gastroenterologist uses a small camera to look for any abnormal growths in the colon and the rectum. If found, these are removed immediately and sent for analysis. The colonoscopy requires a thorough cleansing of the colon and most patients take 1-2 days off from work.

For those with less time available, a virtual colonoscopy – an X-ray of the rectum and colon – is similar in accuracy to a standard colonoscopy, and has a lower risk of complications. However, if polyps or other abnormal growths are found, the next step is a standard colonoscopy to remove them.

People with a family history of colon cancer or polyps, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or certain inherited conditions, may be advised to start screening before age 50, Dr. Beg adds.

“Colon cancer deaths have been steadily decreasing in recent years since more people are getting tested,” Dr. Beg says. “It’s worth the time to get checked and stay healthy.”

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month.


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