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Scared of Getting a Colonoscopy? Try This Option First

Scared of Getting a Colonoscopy? Try This Option First

This at-home test may be your first step to detecting, and possibly preventing, colorectal cancer.

It’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, but funnymen Steve Martin, Martin Short and Tom Hanks get together every other year to prepare for their colonoscopies. Anyone who has had this test knows the day before is less than enjoyable, but the trio makes it fun. They eat Jell-O, play poker and take their turns in the bathroom.

Smart. Research affirms routine screening (using fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy—the gold standard) beginning at age 50 can prevent—or catch early—colorectal cancer. Screening should begin sooner, if you’ve got a family history of the disease.

Now, we would never suggest less quality time with friends, but there may be a way to get fewer colonoscopies. It’s now possible to screen a person with average colorectal cancer risk using a noninvasive fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, that can detect malignant cells in the stool. You collect a stool sample at home and send it into a lab.

A comprehensive analysis in Annals of Internal Medicine looked at 31 studies and found FIT to be a good way to identify if a person at average risk for colon cancer needs to have a colonoscopy. If FIT detects any abnormalities, then absolutely yes. (About a third of folks with a positive FIT turn out to have advanced precancerous polyps or colon cancer.) But if no abnormalities are spotted, FIT will buy you some time before your next essential colonoscopy. That is, unless you don’t want to give up poker and Jell-O with friends!

Medically reviewed in January 2018.

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