You Have Options When It Comes to Screening for Colorectal Cancer

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When you think of screening for colon cancer, you first may think of a colonoscopy. But you might be surprised to learn there are several good alternatives to screen for colon cancer, the third-most common cancer in men and women.

"With a colonoscopy, the major fears for most people are the prep and sedation," says UH gastroenterologist Gregory Cooper, MD. "They hear all these horror stories about what these involve."

In fact, the full bowel prep required for a colonoscopy is getting easier, Dr. Cooper says. For instance, there are prep kits that don't require you to drink as much fluid and many of the liquids are becoming more palatable.

Sedation is still standard practice during a colonoscopy, which is usually performed on an outpatient basis. The sedative helps relax you while the gastroenterologist uses a scope to examine your intestinal lining for growths and treats or removes them for further study. The growths, called polyps, can turn into cancer.

If you're not considered high-risk, you can wait 10 years between colonoscopies.

Alternatives to Colonoscopy

Although a colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colon cancer screening, many hospitals, including University Hospitals, offer other alternatives, including:

  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) – This test checks for hidden blood in the stool, which can be a sign of precancerous polyps or colon cancer. For this test, you use a take-home kit, collect your stool according to the instructions, and return it to the lab. FIT doesn't require drug or dietary restrictions, but it must be done annually.
  • Stool DNA (sDNA) – With this at-home test, you collect your stool, add a buffer to it and ship it to a lab to analyze. The stool is checked for certain DNA mutations that could indicate colorectal cancer. Two sDNA benefits are its high detection rates of early-stage colon cancer and precancerous polyps. No special diet or bowel prep is required, and if nothing unusual is found, the test is done every three years. The sDNA test also is known by its brand name, a Cologuard test.

Gregory Cooper, MD is a gastroenterologist and cancer prevention and control expert with UH Digestive Health Institute.

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The board-certified gastrointestinal physicians and surgeons at University Hospitals are leaders in screening, diagnosing, managing and treating all types of colon polyps, colon cancer and other gastrointestinal conditions. With a team approach to care, we work closely with patients to provide treatment for immediate needs. We also work together to educate patients on how to reduce the risk of more serious issues such as colon cancer. Learn more about colonoscopy and other options for colorectal cancer screening at UH. 

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