Colon cancer tests

Somali: Kaansarta mindhicirka iyo malawadka: Waxa la rabo inaad ogaatid

Spanish: Cáncer colorectal: Lineamientos de pruebas/detección temprana

Colorectal cancer starts in either the colon or the rectum. The second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., is is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

Routine screenings

Colorectal cancer responds best to treatment when it is found and treated as early as possible. Take an active role in early detection by talking with your health care provider about these screening options when you are age 50 or older:

  • Colonoscopy: A flexible tube with a tiny camera is passed into your rectum and through your entire colon. This exam is done every 10 years. There is prep before the exam. 
    • Accuracy:
      • This screening option is the least likely to miss signs of cancer.
      • Removing a polyp can prevent cancer.
    • Risks:
      • Risk of a bad reaction to the sedative used during the exam.
      • Risk of bleeding if a tissue sample (biopsy) was taken or a polyp removed.
      • Risk of a tear in your colon or rectum wall (4 in 10,000 people)
  • Stool test (iFOBT): This is a kit your use at home. You collect a stool sample and mail it to a lab for testing. This test is done each year. There is no prep.
    • Accuracy:
      • 5 out of 100 people have a false-positive. (This means the test is positive but a follow-up colonoscopy finds no problems.)
      • 12 in 100 tests may miss a cancer each year.
    • Risks:
      • Risk of missing polyps.
      • Risk of needing a colonoscopy if the test is positive.
      • Risk that insurance may not cover all of the cost of the colonoscopy.
      • Risk of not finding cancer if the test is not done every year.
  • FIT-DNA: This is a kit you use at home. You collect an entire stool and mail it to a lab for testing. This test is done each year. There is no prep.
    • Accuracy:
      • 13 out of 100 people have a false-positive. (The test is positive but a follow-up colonoscopy finds no problems.)
      • 8 in 100 tests may miss a cancer each year.
    • Risks:
      • Risk of missing polyps.
      • Risk of needing a colonoscopy if the test is positive.
      • Risk that insurance may not cover all of the cost of the colonoscopy.
      • Risk of not finding cancer if the test is not done every one to three years.

Check with your insurance provider to find out exactly what is and is not covered under your plan.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Colorectal Cancer, can-ah-55156 (1/19); American Cancer Society, All About Colon and Rectum Cancer
First Published: 10/19/2009
Last Reviewed: 07/09/2019

Patient story

Saved by colon cancer screening: Ruth's story

Ruth Edstrom speaks with a woman about colon cancer screening

In November 1999, Ruth Edstrom got the news that changed her life. She had stage 4 colon cancer, and it had spread to her liver.

Today, she says, "The most important thing is for people to go get screened."