Some types of cancer can be found before there are any signs of disease. Checking for cancer (or conditions that may lead to cancer) in people who have no symptoms is called screening. Screening can help the doctor find and treat some types of cancer early. Generally, cancer treatment works well when the disease is found early. Depending on your age, and risks, below are the recommendations for certain screenings.
Screening for colon cancer, or other problems in the colon is suggested for adults, beginning at age 50. There are a number of screening tests used to find cancer or other problems. Talk to your doctor about which of the following tests are right for you.
Types of Tests
- Stool test: Also called a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). This test looks for small amounts of blood in your stool. You receive a test kit from your health care provider. At home, you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You return the test kit to the doctor or a lab, where the stool samples are checked for the presence of blood. How often: This test is done once a year.
- Sigmoidoscopy: This is an exam of the lower part of the large intestine (colon). The test uses a bendable, lighted tube. It is done in a hospital or doctor’s office. Preparation for the test includes emptying the bowels ahead of time using a laxative or enema. How often: Every 5 years with FOBT every 3 years.
- Colonoscopy: This is an exam of the entire large intestine. The test uses a long bendable lighted scope, which is linked to a video monitor. This test is done in the hospital or doctor’s office. Preparation for the test includes emptying the bowels ahead of time using a laxative or enema. The person undergoing the test is given medicine to relive pain and make him or her drowsy. How often: Every 10 years.
Breast exams look for signs of cancer when there are no symptoms. An exam is an x-ray of the breast. Breast exams are used to look for breast cancer in women before changes in the breast are seen or felt. The exam does not keep breast cancer from happening; it may help find cancer early before it spreads to other parts of the body. It is suggested that women age 50 to 74 years get a breast exam every two years. The decision to start breast exams before the age of 50 is an individual one and should be discussed with your doctor. Learn more about screenings for every age group.