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Screening & Diagnosis 

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The physicians of the Sentara Cancer Network strongly believe in colon and rectal cancer screenings. In the U.S., colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men and women, and is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths.

However, with screening and early diagnosis, it can be prevented and cured. While no one knows the exact causes of colorectal cancer, there are several known risk factors, including age and family history.

If any of the statements below apply to you, talk to your doctor about colon and rectal screenings. 

 I have a family history of colon cancer in a first degree relative (parents, brother, sister or child). 

 I’m 45 years old and I’m African American.

 I’m 50 years or better and have not had a colonoscopy. 

 I have had a colonoscopy, but I’m not sure when to get the next one.

Download a Colonoscopy Screening Card

Screening tests help your doctor find polyps or cancer before you have symptoms. Tests that examine the rectum, rectal tissue and blood are used to detect and diagnose pre-cancerous polyps that may otherwise become cancer.

To find polyps and early colorectal cancer, everyone in their 50s and older should be screened. People who are higher-than-average risk for colorectal cancer should talk to their doctor about whether to have screening tests before age 50, what tests to have, the benefits and risks of each test, and how often to schedule appointments.

Early detection and removal of colon cancers can prevent up to 80 percent of cancer deaths.

Screening Tests

 Physical exam and history
An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.

 Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
A test to check stool (solid waste) for tiny amounts of blood. Sometimes cancers or polyps can bleed, causing microscopic amounts of blood in the stool. If this tests detects blood, other tests are needed to find the source. Other conditions (such as hemorrhoids) can also cause blood in the stool.

 Digital rectal exam
An exam of the rectum, normally part of a routine physical. The doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps or anything abnormal.

 Barium enema
A series of X-rays of the lower gastrointestinal tract. A liquid that contains barium (a silver-white metallic compound) is put into the rectum. The barium coats the lower gastrointestinal tract and X-rays are taken. This procedure is also called a lower GI series.

A procedure to look inside the rectum and sigmoid (lower) colon for polyps, abnormal areas, or cancer. A sigmoidoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted through the rectum into the sigmoid colon. Polyps or tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.

A procedure to look inside the rectum and colon for polyps, abnormal areas or cancer. A colonoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted through the rectum into the colon. Polyps or tissue samples may be taken for biopsy. A colonoscopy is considered the most reliable test for detection and removal of growths that lead to colon cancer.

 Virtual Colonoscopy
A procedure that uses a series of X-rays called computed tomography (CT) to make a series of pictures of the colon. A computer puts the pictures together to create detailed images that may show polyps and anything else that seems unusual on the inside surface of the colon. This test is also called colonography or CT colonography.

Computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) are all advanced technologies often used to pinpoint cancerous tissue.

 Genetic Counseling and Testing for Hereditary Colon Cancer Syndromes 
Using a blood sample, a physician can often determine if a patient is at risk for hereditary cancer. Therefore, the patient and doctor can begin steps to reduce his or her risk and possibly prevent colorectal cancer.


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