Colorectal Cancer Screening & Early Detection

Colorectal Cancer Screening and Early Detection

Because colorectal cancer is typically a slow-growing cancer, it provides us with the opportunity to treat it with a high probability of success if the cancer is detected early on.

For this reason we recommend you begin having routine screenings at age 50, or earlier if certain lifestyle (smoking, diet, alcohol) or genetic risk factors are present. Genetic testing and counseling is available for patients who may be at hereditary risk.

Colorectal cancer is highly treatable when caught early.

Depending on your initial screening results and other factors, your doctor will recommend a schedule and the techniques to be used for future screenings.

Colonoscopy — Using a colonoscope (a hollow, lighted tube) inserted into the anus, the entire length of the colon is examined for polyps or other signs of cancerous growth. Polyps are removed and analyzed for further diagnosis. We recommend you undergo this procedure every ten years, beginning at 50.

Recently, the media has heralded the less-invasive “Virtual Colonoscopy.” However, not enough evidence currently exists to support its effectiveness as a screening tool, therefore we recommend undergoing the highly effective traditional colonoscopy.

"Colonoscopy is done under intravenous sedation, which makes the procedure comfortable for the patient," says John Muir gastroenterologist Will Lane, M.D.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy — This screening test is more tolerable than a colonoscopy, and can detect about two-thirds of any existing polyps and over half of colorectal cancers. The American Cancer Society recommends this procedure as an alternative screening option, performed every five years, beginning at 50. If polyps are discovered, patients will need to undergo colonoscopy for further testing. 

Fecal Occult Blood Test — This simple test, easily done at home, checks for blood in the stool that is usually not visible to the naked eye, a possible sign of colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends this as an additional screening procedure, performed annually beginning at 50.

Genetic Counseling & Testing — About 25% of all colorectal cancer cases are related to family history. If a close family relationship or multiple family members has had colorectal cancer or anyone in your family has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age 50, you should speak with your physician about participating in John Muir Health’s genetic counseling and testing program.

About 5% of colon cancers are related to an inherited genetic mutation known as Lynch Syndrome, which can result in a number of different cancers including colorectal cancer. Again, it is important to speak to your physician about your family history to see if it makes sense to undergo a more in-depth evaluation with our genetic experts.

We have a number of effective surveillance and preventive options we can discuss with you if we detect that you do have a genetic risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Learn about colorectal cancer diagnosis