Featured Articles

Colon Cancer Screening: Is an at-home test right for you?

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to learn more about one of the most common forms of cancer you can get – and how to prevent it. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 150,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with this disease each year, yet it’s highly curable when caught early. Read on!

Screening can save your life. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF):

For people who have symptoms that could be caused by colorectal cancer, or who are at increased risk because they have a family history of colorectal cancer or because they have conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, regular colonoscopies are recommended as the most sensitive and comprehensive test available for detecting colon cancer. A colonoscopy is an in-office procedure that takes 30 to 60 minutes and requires bowel preparation the day before, but it’s worth it as it identifies at least 95% of cancers. It’s recommended at age 45 and every 10 years thereafter (until age 75) if no precancerous growths – called polyps – are found.

However, for most people at average risk of colorectal cancer, it’s reasonable to use an alternative screening method – particularly an at-home screening test. Discuss these options with your primary care provider to see which one is right for you.

An at-home screening test is a kit that allows you to collect a stool sample in the privacy of your home. The collection process is quick and easy, and it requires no bowel preparation.

The stool sample is sent to either your doctor’s office or a lab. There, it’s analyzed for signs of colorectal cancer, such as microscopic amounts of blood (which can come from tumors or polyps) or DNA from cancer cells.

Colorectal cancer can be cured if it’s caught early with a screening test. But don’t put off a screening because you’re not sure which one to get. Three types of at-home screening tests are recommended by the USPSTF:

Collecting the samples: You’ll get a kit in the mail to use to collect your entire stool sample at home. The kit will have a sample container, a bracket for holding the container in the toilet, a bottle of liquid preservative, a tube, labels and a shipping box. The kit has detailed instructions on how to collect the sample. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with your kit. If you have any questions about how to use your kit, contact your doctor’s office or clinic. Once you have collected the sample, return it as instructed in the kit. If the test is positive (if it finds DNA changes or blood), a colonoscopy will need to be done.

A stool DNA test (Cologuard) detects cell changes or blood in the stool that may be caused by cancer or precancerous polyps that could turn into cancer.

A colonoscopy – which uses a flexible tube with a light and a small video camera at one end to examine the entire length of the rectum and colon – can prevent cancer from developing by removing any suspicious-looking polyps and can also help find cancer at an early stage before it has spread.

Remember: There’s no single “best test.” Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each and see what they recommend. Picking the right option depends on your preferences, your risk factors, the resources you have available and more. The most important thing is simply getting screened.

For more about colorectal cancer and prevention, check out our podcast at hally.com/2021/03/hally-healthcast-5-key-things-to-know-about-colorectal-cancer-and-prevention/. And you can learn more about your options for colorectal cancer screening from our blog at hally.com/2022/03/not-just-colonoscopies/.