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The Importance of Screening Before Colon Cancer Symptoms Appear

Since the early stages of the disease usually do not cause symptoms, colon cancer screening is important. Screening allows the doctor to find polyps or colon cancer early. Colon cancer is highly curable if diagnosed and treated early.
To find polyps or early colon cancer:
  • People in their 50s and older should be screened
  • People who are at higher-than-average risk of colorectal cancer should talk with their doctor about whether they should have screening tests before age 50, what tests to have, the benefits and risks of each test, and how often to schedule appointments.
The following colon cancer screening tests are used to detect polyps, cancer, or other abnormalities in the colon and rectum:
Rectal Exam
A rectal exam is often part of a routine physical examination. The doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the lower part of the rectum to feel for abnormal areas.
Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
A fecal occult blood test checks for hidden blood in three consecutive stool samples. One clinical trial in the United States reported a 33 percent reduction in colorectal cancer deaths and a 20 percent reduction in colorectal cancer incidence among people offered an annual FOBT. Population-based trials in Europe have demonstrated that screening every other year reduced colorectal cancer deaths by 15 to 18 percent.
During a sigmoidoscopy, the doctor checks inside the rectum and lower (sigmoid) colon with a lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope. If polyps are found, the doctor removes them. The procedure to remove polyps is called a polypectomy.
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