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Rectal cancer screening involves testing a person for the disease before symptoms are present. Such screening can help doctors find polyps or cancer in the early stages. Tests used for rectal cancer screening include digital rectal exams, fecal occult blood tests, sigmoidoscopies, and barium enemas. People 50 years of age or older should be tested for rectal cancer; people with a higher-than-average risk for the disease may need to begin rectal cancer screening before age 50.
Rectal Cancer Screening: An IntroductionRectal cancer screening is the process of testing a person for the disease before symptoms develop. Screening can help the doctor find polyps or cancer in the early stages. Finding and removing polyps may prevent rectal cancer. Also, treatment for rectal cancer is more likely to be effective when the disease is found early.
Rectal Cancer Screening TestsThe following rectal cancer screening tests are used to detect polyps, cancer, or other abnormalities in the rectum:
Digital Rectal Exam
A digital rectal exam is used to examine the lower part of the rectum. It is often part of a routine physical examination. The doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for abnormal areas.
Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
Sometimes cancers or polyps in the rectum bleed. The FOBT can detect tiny amounts of blood in the stool, so if this test detects blood, other tests are needed to determine the source of the blood. Other conditions, like hemorrhoids, can also cause blood in the stool.
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.