Colorectal Cancer Screening


Regular screening, combined with a healthy lifestyle, can prevent more than 50 percent of all colon cancer deaths in the United States. Primary prevention through polypectomy or the removal of polyps, substantially reduces the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The University of Tennessee Medical Center offers excellent colorectal cancer screening and treatment.

Most often there are no symptoms of colon cancer. Screening for colorectal cancer works to save lives in two ways.

  • By finding and removing precancerous polyps inside the colon before they become cancer
  • By detecting the cancer early when treatment is most effective

Despite its high incidence rate, colorectal cancer is one of the most detectable cancers and, if found early enough, most treatable forms of cancer. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed while cancer is still localized, survive more than five years. Currently, however, only 37 percent of colorectal cancers are detected while still localized.



When Should I Begin Screening?

If none of your relatives had colorectal cancer, the recommended age to start screening is 50 years old. If you do not know if your relatives had colorectal cancer, ask. Knowing your family history and getting the appropriate screenings could save your life.

If colorectal cancer occurred in a parent, sibling or child or in two or more relatives such as an aunt, uncle or grandparent, screening should start at age 40 or 10 years before the age when your relative was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

If you have inflammatory bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or abdominal or intestinal polyps, you may be at higher risk for colorectal cancer and should talk with your doctor about an appropriate screening strategy.

Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test—In this test, the stool is tested for the presence of blood that is invisible to the eye. Special stool cards are completed by the patient at home and mailed to his doctor.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy—Your doctor will use a long, flexible, lighted tube to check the rectum and lower part of the colon for polyps and cancer.
  • Double Contrast Barium Enema—A white dye allows a radiologist to X-ray the colon. After partially filling the bowel with barium, the patient is turned so that the barium is spread throughout the bowel. Air is then inserted into the colon and X-rays are taken.
  • Colonoscopy—This procedure is performed by a gastroenterologist. He will use a long, flexible, lighted tube called a colonscope to view the entire colon and rectum for polyps or cancer. If a polyp is found, it can be removed by a wire loop that is passed through the colonscope.

If you are 50 years old or older, the colonoscopy is the most comprehensive exam. It reveals the entire colon and allows for removal of polyps and abnormal tissue during the test.