Prevention

Colorectal cancer screening and early detection

Colorectal cancer screenings allow your physician to find and remove polyps before they become cancerous.

If cancer has already begun, a screening gives your physician the opportunity to spot the signs at an early stage — when the disease is easier to cure and before you would likely notice symptoms

Screening Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (for breast cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer) and Pap and HPV tests (for cervical cancer). Screening can also include a genetic test to check for a person’s risk of developing an inherited disease. Sign In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. In medicine, a sign is something found during a physical exam or from a laboratory test that shows that a person may have a condition or disease. Some examples of signs are fever, swelling, skin rash, high blood pressure and high blood glucose. Stage The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain.

Schedule your colon cancer screening

Call (206) 606-1434 to schedule a colorectal cancer screening at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center - South Lake Union.

Who needs colorectal cancer screening?

The American Cancer Society recommends colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 50 for people who have no known risk factors other than age. The frequency depends on the screening method.

If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or you have other risk factors for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about starting screenings earlier in life — and maybe being screened more often.

Fred Hutch’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program offers a personalized approach to risk assessment, screening and prevention for people at high risk for gastrointestinal cancers.

Learn More About the Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program

What are my screening options?

The main screening tests include:

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) — to detect any blood in your stool (which could be caused by cancer or by other some other condition).
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) — to check for blood in your stool. This test is more accurate than the FOBT.
  • Stool DNA test (Cologuard) — to check cells in your stool for abnormal DNA that may signal you have cancer or polyps. 
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy — to examine your rectum and the lower part of your colon for polyps or tumors using a flexible, lighted tube.
  • Colonoscopy — to examine your entire colon and rectum using a flexible, lighted tube. Your doctor can remove polyps during this test but not the other types of tests.
  • Computed tomographic (CT) colonography — to create detailed pictures of your colon and rectum using X-rays; also called virtual colonoscopy.

Each of these options is available to Fred Hutch patients. CT colonography is done at the University of Washington Medical Center. 

If you have an abnormal FOBT, FIT, Cologuard or CT colonography, your doctor will recommend that you have a colonoscopy.

  • During your colonoscopy, your doctor will remove any polyps they find and take samples of any other abnormal tissue they see. 
  • Tissue samples and even entire polyps can be removed through the same tube used for the exam. 
  • A pathologist will the polyps or tissue samples under a microscope for cancer cells (a biopsy).
Biopsy The removal of a sample of tissue or fluid that is examined to see whether cancer is present. This may be done with a large needle or through surgical removal of tissue or fluids. Colonoscopy An examination of the inside of the colon using a colonoscope, which is inserted into the rectum. A colonoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. An examination of the inside of the colon using a colonoscope, which is inserted into the rectum. A colonoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease. Computed tomography A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. This scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment or find out how well treatment is working. Gastrointestinal Refers to the stomach and intestines. Also called GI. Pathologist A physician who has special training in identifying diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. Screening Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease Checking for disease when there are no symptoms. Because screening may find diseases at an early stage, there may be a better chance of curing the disease. Examples of cancer screening tests are the mammogram (for breast cancer), colonoscopy (for colon cancer) and Pap and HPV tests (for cervical cancer). Screening can also include a genetic test to check for a person’s risk of developing an inherited disease.