Colon (or colorectal) cancer is among the most common forms of cancer, making screening for this form of cancer a high priority. If it occurs, participating in routine screening will increase the likelihood of catching cancer in its earlier stages.

Family History and Genetics

Your family history and any genetic predisposition can be a powerful tool in determining when you should start screening for colon cancer. Having several people in your family develop colon cancer, especially if they are first-degree relatives, will necessitate earlier screening. Whenever possible, you should try to determine at which age these relatives developed colon cancer as this will further influence when you start screening. People at average risk of colon cancer should begin screening at 45 years of age. If you have people in your family with an earlier onset of colon cancer, or you have other factors that make you high risk, screening may need to begin earlier. Some people choose to undergo genetic testing to identify some genetic mutations that are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.

Stool Testing

There are multiple stool tests available that can be used to detect colon cancer. Each test works differently and your risk factors may dictate which test is appropriate. Some stool tests are capable of detecting blood in the stool or specific proteins produced by blood. More extensive stool tests are capable of detecting DNA in your stool. The inside of your intestines sheds cells that are contained within the stool. Information about these cells can be helpful in identifying possible colon cancer. Newer testing is much easier to do because you can collect the sample at home. Each test will have unique instructions on collecting the sample. Some tests will need to be returned to your doctor's office, whereas others might be mailed to a lab.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests will is the gold standard in terms of detecting colon cancer. The most common test is the colonoscopy. During the procedure, you will receive an anesthetic to make the process more comfortable. A small camera is inserted into the anus and the images are transmitted to a monitor. The doctor will guide the camera throughout the large intestines to look for abnormalities. Any abnormalities can be sampled during the procedure and sent to the pathology lab for further testing. Less commonly, a virtual colonoscopy might be done. This involves the use of a CT scanner to take pictures of the colon. Although a virtual colonoscopy can sound like a better option, the disadvantage of the procedure is the doctor's inability to take samples if they find anything abnormal. If abnormalities are found during the virtual colonoscopy, a traditional colonoscopy will be necessary to further inspect suspicious areas and take samples.

As more is understood about colon cancer, it is easier to identify risk factors that suggest earlier screening is needed. Furthermore, the use of stool testing and imaging is helping more people with colon cancer detect the condition earlier. For more information, reach out to a clinic such as Gastro Health.