Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in Massachusetts, but it can be prevented. Screening tests can help your doctor find and remove polyps before they turn into cancer. Polyps are growths that can turn into cancer if they are not removed.
When colon cancer is caught early, it can be cured 90% of the time.
Early on, colon cancer has no symptoms, so you could have colon cancer and not know it. The only way to know for sure is to get screened.
Who needs to be screened?
- Men and women who are 50 or older.
- If you have a personal or family history of polyps or colon cancer, you may need to start getting screened earlier.
- African Americans have a greater risk for colon cancer. If you’re African American, it is especially important to be screened.
What are the options for colon cancer screening?
Doctors recommend two main tests for colon cancer screening. You should talk to your doctor about the best test for you.
- Stool test: A yearly at-home test that looks for hidden blood in the stool. This test is recommended for patients who have an average risk for colon cancer.
- Colonoscopy: A procedure that looks for polyps.
How does the stool test work?
A stool test — known as a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) — is an easy, once-a-year screening test for colon cancer that you can do in the privacy of your own home. You can pick up the test kit from a doctor or medical provider. The kit comes with a stick or brush that you use to collect a sample of your stool. Follow the instructions that come with the kit and return the kit to your doctor or a lab.
The doctor or lab will look for hidden blood in your stool sample. This hidden blood could be an early sign of colon cancer.
What happens after the stool test?
If your doctor or lab finds blood in your stool sample, you will need a colonoscopy to see if there is cancer, a polyp, or other cause of bleeding. When colon cancer is found and treated early, it can be cured. When polyps are found and removed, colon cancer can be prevented.
Is it covered by insurance?
All insurance plans cover stool tests (known as FOBT or FIT kits). You should talk to your doctor about the best test for you.
Learn more about the at-home test with the 30-second video, or click on the embedded video below for the 2-minute version.
En Espanol: El cáncer de colon se puede prevenir.
How does a colonoscopy work?
During a colonoscopy procedure, a doctor uses a thin, soft tube with a tiny camera to look for polyps in the whole colon. A doctor can remove any polyps he/she finds. The procedure is usually about 20 minutes, but you are at the doctor’s office or hospital for several hours.
You will not be able to eat any solid food the day before the test; you can only drink clear liquids, and will need to take a laxative. During the procedure, you are given a medication so that you aren’t able to feel most of the exam.
What happens after a colonoscopy?
If you have the test and no polyps are found, you should have the test again in about 10 years.
Is it covered by insurance?
All insurance plans cover colonoscopy, but copays and deductibles may apply. You should talk to your doctor about the best test for you.
 SEER Cancer Statistics Review
This information is provided by the Department of Public Health.