Early diagnosis of colon cancer is an important part of fighting it. Caught in its early stages, it has one of the highest survival rates of any type of cancer, but once it starts to take root, that number drops.
Unfortunately, symptoms of colon cancer are inconclusive, and can be associated with other things as well. They include bloody stool, abdominal pain and cramping, fatigue and unintended weight loss. In fact, colon cancer is often asymptomatic. That’s why regular testing is important.
There are several different tests doctors can perform to look for colon cancer:
- Stool testing. Doctors look for trace amounts of blood in the stool, which may be too small to be visible. This kind of test is usually done at home, with a kit provided by your doctor. Recently, a stool DNA test has been developed, which looks for genetic evidence of cancerous growth.
- Barium enema. A radioactive dye is administered to allow the digestive system to show up on X-ray.
- Cameras. In a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, a tube is threaded into the bowel or the s-shaped region called the sigmoid colon. Colonoscopy is the most common diagnostic procedure used to find colon cancer, and small polyps can be removed as soon as they’re found, combining diagnosis and treatment.
- Virtual colonoscopy. A CT scan of the gut provides more detail than an X-ray, and doesn’t require the use of barium. With computer software, doctor can get a very good look, relatively non-invasively.
The various tests available have pros and cons. If you’re at risk of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about what type of screening best meets your needs.