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Colon and Rectal Screening Tests -- A Variety of Options

Since screening tests for colon and rectal cancer have proven to be effective at catching the disease in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable, more and more people are beginning to have one or more of the tests performed on a regular schedule. For those wishing to begin a screening regiment, however, the different options can seem a bit confusing and overwhelming. Each test screens for cancerous abnormalities differently, and there are advantages and disadvantages associated with each approach as well as wide range of costs.


This form of colon and rectal cancer screening is the most widely-accepted form of testing. Utilizing a long, flexible tube with an attached camera that is inserted it into the patient's rectum, the medical professional performing the test can examine the rectum and colon for any polyps. According to the Mayo Clinic, polyps can actually be removed during a colonoscopy. Typical downsides of this form of screening can be high costs ($1,000+) and the extensive preparation and possible sedation the test requires.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy

This screening technique is basically a less extensive version of a colonoscopy, as the doctor can only view about the last 2 feet of the colon. Some of the benefits of this exam, in contrast to a colonoscopy, include its comparatively less expensive price ($150-300) and how much quicker it can be performed. A sigmoidoscopy requires little preparation, no sedation, no specialists and causes minimal discomfort.

Double-contrast barium enema

A special X-ray is used for this method of colorectal cancer screening, and the lower part of the colon is coated with a metallic solution containing barium to better enable the doctor to see distinct shapes and forms within the colon. This specific form of barium enema calls for air to be inserted into the rectum to expand the passage and thus enhance the images on the X-ray. According to the American Cancer Society, the costs for this test are in the intermediate range ($300-400). Some of the cons of having this test performed are its high complexity and occasional false positive test results.

Computed tomographic colonography (CTC)

This method of screening for early colorectal cancer is also commonly referred to as virtual colonography. This exam uses hundreds of cross-sectioned images of the colon and rectum to detect any abnormalities which may or may not be cancerous. This form of testing hasn’t yet been widely approved and is still seen as a complimentary test to be performed in conjunction with other proven methods, such as a colonoscopy. Unfortunately, this exam can cost as much as a colonoscopy, but the difference here is that most insurance companies will not cover the costs of this test.

Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)

Finding and testing hidden blood within stool samples is how this method works. Before blood from a polyp in the colon is passed onto the stool in any amount which can be seen by the naked eye, it can be detected by a FOBT. Unfortunately, this test can only prove blood is present in the stool and does not indicate where it may have originated. This test is very inexpensive ($30) compared to many other tests, but it has been proven to be less effective at discovering cancer than most of the other methods.

Stool DNA test

Through examination of stool samples, medical professionals can discover abnormal cells which have been shed from within the colon and passed out of the body as waste. The cost of this can be up to $350, and typically will not be covered by insurance companies because it hasn’t been approved; it is one of the newer detection methods available for colon and rectal cancer. The recommended intervals between tests have not been determined as of yet.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in Georgia and feel it was originally misdiagnosed by your doctor, please request a copy of our free book, I Have Cancer…Should It Have Been Caught Earlier?, and call 770-518-1133 to set up a consultation with an experienced, Atlanta-based medical malpractice and colorectal cancer lawyer at The Dover Law Firm.