Screening and Diagnosis

Sentara physicians strongly believe in colon and rectal cancer screenings. In the U.S., colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, and it is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

Colon and rectal cancer screenings help physicians detect and remove growths that may eventually lead to cancer. In addition, screenings allow for earlier detection, which in turn, provide for more effective treatment.

The following exams and screening tests are offered at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center:

Common screenings we offer:

  • Physical Exam and History

    An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as any changes in bodily functions that seem unusual. Routine physical examinations often include a digital rectal exam (DRE). During a digital rectal exam, a doctor or nurse inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for proper function of the anus, masses, or anything else abnormal.

    A history of the patient’s health habits, as well as past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)

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

  • 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. Barium enema is generally only performed if a person cannot have a screening colonoscopy.

  • Colonoscopy

    A procedure to look inside the rectum and colon for polyps, abnormal areas or cancer. During the procedure, a colonoscope (a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a camera) is inserted through the rectum into the colon. Polyps or tissue samples may be taken for biopsy. Medicine for sedation is administered through an IV, allowing patients to sleep through the procedure.

    For the results of a colonoscopy to be effective, patients must follow traditional bowl prep instructions for one to two days prior to the procedure. Bowel prep is important to clear fecal matter from the large intestine.

    A colonoscopy is considered the most reliable test for detection and removal of growths that can 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.

    For the results of a virtual colonoscopy to be effective, patients must follow traditional bowl prep instructions for one to two days prior to the procedure. Bowel prep is important to clear fecal matter from the large intestine.

  • Imaging

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

  • 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. This process is carried out at the physician’s office.

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