Preventing Cancer Deaths: Colon Cancer Testing

Health Watch is a public service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.


This week on Health Watch, we’ve been talking about ways to prevent or beat cancer. Early detection is usually the key. Cancer is most treatable in its earliest form before it has a chance to spread. Because of this, there are more tests available to help find cancer. But Dr. Harry Papaconstantinou, a surgeon at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says take-home kits to detect colon cancer shouldn’t replace colonoscopy.

The kits test for blood in the stool, which could be a sign of cancerous or precancerous lesions or polyps. But the lesions can bleed intermittently, which could lead to false negative results. And many foods or drugs can trigger false positive results. While the tests can be a helpful screening tool when used correctly, they shouldn’t be relied upon entirely. Colonoscopy, which uses a flexible scope to examine the colon, gives the most precise results, Dr. Papaconstantinou says.

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January 2006

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