Keeping your large intestine, or colon, healthy is a key part of making sure you can properly digest food.
Some of the health concerns for the colon include ulcers, polyps, tumors, inflammation and bleeding. A major medical issue is cancer, with over 135,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer expected this year. The good news is that because of improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment, “more than a million people in the U.S. count themselves as survivors of colon or rectum cancer (also called colorectal cancer),” according to the American Cancer Society.
Part of those early detection efforts include colonoscopies, tests that look for all the previously mentioned conditions. Starting at age 50, you should get a colonoscopy every ten years. If you have a high risk of colorectal cancer due to a personal or family history of the cancer, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, you should be screened earlier and more often.
“Colorectal cancer screening helps people stay well and saves lives,” the ACS says. “Regular colorectal cancer testing is one of the most successful ways to prevent colorectal cancer or find it early, when it’s small and easier to treat.”
You may be hesitant to get a colonoscopy but, while other tests are available to screen your colon, none of them are as thorough. Additionally, depending on your results, you may need to get a colonoscopy anyway. Here are a few of the tests available and why none of them can replace a colonoscopy.
Fecal occult blood test
A fecal occult blood test looks for blood in your feces, which WebMD says could be an indication of any of the following conditions:
- Growths or polyps
- Anal fissures
- Intestinal infections that cause inflammation
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- Diverticular disease
- Problems in the blood vessels in the large intestine
- Meckel’s diverticulum
You may think you’ll notice blood in your stool, but it can be microscopic — the “occult” part of the test refers to blood you cannot see. If your results are positive, one of the follow-up tests your doctor will likely recommend is a colonoscopy.
“Most causes of bleeding are related to conditions that can be cured or controlled, such as hemorrhoids,” according to the experts at The Endoscopy Center. “The cause of bleeding may not be serious, but locating the source of bleeding is important.”
Even with a negative test result, you’ll still need to screen regularly for cancer.
Cologuard is an at-home kit you have shipped to you. You collect a stool sample and send it to a lab for testing.
“If you have cancer or precancer in your colon, abnormal cells shed into the colon — along with normal cells — where they are picked up by stool as it passes through,” according to Cologuard. “Cologuard uses advanced stool DNA technology to find elevated levels of altered DNA and/or hemoglobin in these abnormal cells, which could be associated with cancer or precancer.”
The company then shares the results with your doctor. Unfortunately, Cologuard may give false positives or false negatives. Additionally, if you get a positive result from this test, you will still need to have a diagnostic colonoscopy.
Schedule a colonoscopy
Even if you would still prefer to start with one of these tests before moving forward with a colonoscopy, keep in mind that some insurance companies might cover only one screening test so, if you end up needing a colonoscopy to get a proper diagnosis, you may have to pay for it out-of-pocket.
Make the process simpler by scheduling a colonoscopy with a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in the colon and the rest of the digestive system. The experts at The Endoscopy Center can answer any questions you have about colonoscopies and guide you through the process. For more information and to make an appointment, visit endo-world.com.