Is it Time? Colon Cancer Screening
Many testing options available
Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Many adults have missed regular screenings due to the pandemic. But when cancer is found and removed early, the chances for full recovery are very good.
If you’re between 45 and 75 years old and at average risk, getting screened regularly can save your life. If you're between 76 and 85, talk with your provider about your overall health and prior screening history. Screening is recommended for average risk individuals and those who do not have signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer. If you are at increased risk or have symptoms, contact your provider to determine the next best steps.
When it’s your time to get screened, you may want to know how screenings work or which options are available to you.
VA recommends the following common options:
A "FIT FIRST" strategy can help Veterans catch up with screenings they may have missed during the pandemic.
Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. It’s done once a year. You'll receive a test kit that can be done in the comfort of your home where you'll obtain a small amount of stool and return the kit as instructed. (If positive, you will need to have a colonoscopy.)
Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. It's done once a year. You'll receive a test kit from your doctor. You'll obtain a small amount of stool at home and then return the test kit as instructed. (If positive, you will need to have a colonoscopy.);
During a flexible sigmoidoscopy exam, your provider will put a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum. The provider checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. It should be done every 5 years, or every 10 years, with a FIT every year, based on your provider's recommendation.
A colonoscopy is similar to a flexible sigmoidoscopy. The provider uses a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. Your provider can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopies are used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests. It should be done every 10 years (for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer).
You can contact your provider using Secure Messaging to discuss your test and learn how often you might need to be tested. Keep in mind that which test your provider chooses for you depends on:
Your medical condition
The likelihood that you will get the test
The resources are available for testing and follow-up
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Colorectal Cancer Screening (Veterans Health Library)
Colorectal Colon Cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - CDC)
Updated March 18, 2022