Cancer of the colon is one of the most common and most preventable forms of cancer.  We know that all colon cancer comes from colon polyps (polyps are benign, small growths of tissue coming from the lining of the colon).  Most colon polyps, however, do not become cancerous.  The process of a polyp growing, and becoming cancerous, takes approximately 10 years.  Therefore, we have ample opportunity to screen for this problem.

People who are at risk

A person’s risk for developing cancer of the colon is elevated if:

bullet there is a close relative (parent or sibling) who has had colon cancer or certain types of colon polyps.


bullet the person has had previous colon cancer or certain types of polyps.



Screening for colon cancer

The current recommendations for screening for colon cancer are as follows:

bullet After age 40, stool test for hidden blood every 1-2 years (because a cancer of the colon easily bleeds, this test can pick up an early cancer).


bullet After age 50, a flexible fiber optic colonoscopy  (a thin, flexible, lighted scope to look at the lining of the colon for any growths or polyps).  This should be done every 5-10 years.  It is done at a hospital or outpatient center using light anesthesia.  The preparation for colonoscopy usually involves drinking a  special laxative solution to clean out the colon.




A new procedure is available, called a “virtual colonoscopy.”  This is a non-invasive test done with a CAT scan x-ray machine.  It appears to be almost as good as a standard colonoscopy.  If the “virtual” colonoscopy picks up a polyp, then you will need a standard colonoscopy.


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