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Overview of Colon Cancer Tests

Which Colon Cancer Test is Right for You?

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Updated: November 12, 2008

There are five common colon cancer tests: colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, and stool testing.

Each has benefits and drawbacks, so it's best to ask your doctor which colon cancer test is appropriate for you. In the meantime, however, here's an overview of the most common types of colon cancer tests.

Colonoscopy

During a colonoscopy, a doctor inserts a flexible tube (called a colonoscope) into your anus. You can watch on a video monitor as the camera is threaded through your rectum, all the way to the end of your colon. If you're thinking about how pleasant that must be, take heart: you're sedated during the procedure. One of the great things about this colon cancer test is its ability to remove polyps (pre-cancerous growths). A colonoscopy costs anywhere from $800 - $1,200 out-of-pocket, but is often covered by insurance.

Virtual Colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy provides a way to look inside your colon and rectum without actually having to go inside them. Doctors can use virtual colonoscopy to check for polyps, cancer, and other abnormalities of the colon and rectum. The colon cancer test is considered "virtual" because it relies on a computer program to generate a 3D picture of your large intestine using a bunch of X-ray images. The price of a virtual colonoscopy ranges from about $500 - $900.

Sigmoidoscopy

A sigmoidoscopy is a lot like a colonoscopy, except it only lets you see the lower part of your colon. The price of a sigmoidoscopy ($150 - $300 out-of-pocket) makes it a more affordable option for people without insurance.

Barium Enema

For this colon cancer test, a doctor uses an enema to fill your colon with barium sulfate. X-rays are taken while you hold in the liquid and move into different positions. The result is several X-rays that provide a two-dimensional view of your colon and rectum. A barium enema costs about $250 - $500.

Stool Testing

There are two primary types of stool tests: fecal occult blood tests and stool DNA testing. Fecal occult blood tests (FOBTs) use a chemical reaction to check for the presence of hidden blood in your stool. Stool DNA testing is the latest method and can also be performed in a doctor's office or at home.

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Sources:

Can Colorectal Polyps and Cancer Be Found Early? American Cancer Society 5 Mar. 2008. Accessed 17 Sep. 2008 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_Can_colon_and_rectum_cancer_be_found_early.asp].

Virtual Colonoscopy. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. May 2003. Accessed 17 Sep. 2008 [http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/virtualcolonoscopy/index.htm].

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