Three Types of Colorectal Cancer Screenings

There is more than one way to determine the presence of colorectal cancer. Please see the chart below to understand the types of visual screening options so you can be prepared to talk with your doctor about which is best for you.

Screening Type Colonoscopy Sigmoidoscopy Virtual Colonoscopy (Computed Tomography Colonography)
 
How It Works A thin tube with a light and a lens for viewing is inserted into the entire length of the colon. The doctor can see and remove polyps or take tissue samples. The same process as a colonoscopy but focuses only on the lower (sigmoid) colon. A computer combines a series of x-rays of the colon that may show polyps or unusual activity.
Sedation Yes Not typical No
Benefits
  • Complete picture of colon
  • Remove polyps for biopsy
  • May find other diseases
  • Every 10 years if normal results
  • Fairly quick
  • Full bowel prep may not be necessary
  • Does not require a specialist
  • Every 5 years if normal results
  • Fairly quick
  • Complete picture of colon
  • Every 5 years if normal results
Limitations
  • Can miss small polyps
  • Cost
  • Need a driver due to sedation
  • Small risk of bleeding, bowel tear or infection
  • May miss a day of work
  • Only reviews about 1/3 of colon area
  • Can miss small polyps
  • Can’t remove all polyps
  • May be uncomfortable without sedation
  • If abnormal, need a follow up colonoscopy
  • Can miss small polyps
  • Can’t remove polyps during test
  • Small radiation exposure
  • If abnormal, need a follow up colonoscopy
  • New test, may have insurance coverage issues

 

Sources:
National Cancer Institute
American Cancer Society

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