Your Guide to Colon Cancer Screening

Although there are several choices for colon (also called colorectal) cancer screening, University of Iowa Health Care experts recommend choosing one of two tools—a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or a colonoscopy.

When you should start getting colon cancer screening varies based on your own medical history. In general, regular screening starts around age 50, but your doctor may recommend that you begin earlier if you have a family history of cancer.

Screening is generally not recommended after age 75, but some people may want to be screened until they are much older. The best thing for you to do is discuss it with your doctor.

A screening is a test done on a person who has no symptoms. If you have symptoms such as abdominal pain, changes in your bowel movements, or blood in your stool, you should discuss these with your doctor.

Read the following comparison of the two tests UI Health Care experts recommend. Then review this information with your doctor and get screened for colon cancer.

Commonly Asked Questions for FIT Tests and Colonoscopies

Can I self-refer without a doctor?

FIT:

No, you need to pickup a kit at the doctor's office.

Colonoscopy:

Yes

Is there a chance I could have a complication like a tear or bleeding problems?

FIT:

No

Colonoscopy:

Less than 1 out of 1,000 people experience these symptoms.

What do I need to do to prepare for the test?

FIT:

Pick up the test kit from the doctor’s office or lab.

Colonscopy:

There will be bowel cleansing with a prescribed laxative and no solid foods the day before the exam. You may also need to adjust medications.

Where is the test performed?

FIT:

The test is performed at home. You collect a stool sample, place it in the provided plastic container, and mail it back to the University of Iowa lab.

Colonoscopy:

The test is performed in a doctor's office, clinic, or hospital. You will receive medications though an intravenous (IV) line that will make you drowsy and help decrease pain. You may feel groggy after the procedure and will need to have someone drive you home.

How often is the test required?

FIT:

Every year

Colonoscopy:

Once every 10 years (if results are normal)

Keep this guide with you

Download our helpful guide to remember the difference between FIT and a colonoscopy.

Download the guide

For more information about colonoscopy and other colon cancer screening options visit our full page about colonoscopies.

Last reviewed: 
January 2020

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