Colon cancer screening tests save lives.

Screening tests help your doctor find polyps or cancer before you even have symptoms. This early detection may prevent polyps from becoming cancer and could jumpstart treatment earlier, when it is most effective.

Though it is usually recommended to start getting screened at age 50, you may need to be screened earlier depending on your family’s health history and risk factors. Check out who should be screened and when.

Colorectal Cancer Screening Methods Free Downloads

Download our free Screening Methods Guide.

MethodWhat & HowFrequencyProsConsSensitivity/Specificity for detecting cancer
ColonoscopySimple and safe procedure in which your doctor uses a long tube with a light and camera to detect polypsEvery 5-10 years depending on whether polyps are foundViews the entire colon. Polyps can be removed during the procedure if foundDietary restrictions 1-3 days prior to procedure and prep to clean out the colon is neededSens 95%
Spec 86%
Fecal Immunochemical Test
(FIT or iFOBT)
Tests for blood. Swab bowel movement and place on cardAnnuallyNo prep. Done at home. Fairly InexpensiveAccuracy. Need a colonoscopy if blood is detected. Requires 1-2 separate samplesSens 73.8%
Spec 96.4%
Guaiac Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)Tests for blood. Swab bowel movement and place on cardAnnuallyNo prep. Done at home. InexpensiveAccuracy, Dietary restrictions, Need a colonoscopy if blood is detected. Requires 3 separate samplesSens 70%
Spec 92.5%
Flexible SigmoidoscopyDetects polyps. Done at a doctors’ officeEvery 5 years, may be combined with annual stool testNo sedation required. Can biopsy if small polyp detectedOnly views part of the colon. Need a colonoscopy if larger polyps or other issues are detectedSens 95%
Spec 87%
Only left sided cancers
Virtual ColonoscopyUses x-rays and computers to take 2- or 3-D images of your colon and rectumEvery 5 yearsQuicker and less invasive than colonoscopy. No sedation is neededExpensive and not covered by all insurance carriers, Dietary restrictions 1-3 days before the procedure, full bowel prep is required, If a polyp is found, will need a colonoscopySens 84%
Spec 88%
Stool DNATests for abnormal DNA. Swab bowel movement and to labEvery 1-3 yearsNo prep, no dietary restrictions. Done at home. Greater accuracy than FITMore expensive than FIT, Need a colonoscopy if results indicate cancerous or precancerous cellsSens 92.3%
Spec 89.8%
Double-Contrast Barium EnemaAir and barium are pumped into your rectum. The solution will show polyps or tumors on X-rays.Every 5-10 yearsDone without sedation. Less expensive than colonoscopyLaxative preparation is required. Polyps cannot be removed during the procedure. If polyps are found, a colonoscopy will be needed
Very low sensitivity and specificity

Click on the name of each method above to learn more.

Sensitivity-true positives- this percentage indicates the number of people WITH colorectal cancer that are correctly identified, so if the sensitivity is 80% then out of 100 people with the disease it will correctly identify 80 people with the disease and incorrectly identify 20 people as not having the disease that do have it.

Specificity-true negative- this percentage indicates the number of people WITHOUT colorectal cancer that are correctly identified, so if the specificity of a test is 60% then out of 100 people without the disease it will correctly identify 60 people that do not have the disease and incorrectly identify 40 people as having the disease who do not have it.

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