Cancer Prevention Tests vs. Cancer Detection Tests

Recently, there has been a lot of information in the media about at-home colon cancer detection tests. While these tests are right for some people, there is a marked difference between at-home tests, which can detect larger polyps and cancers, and a screening colonoscopy which can detect and remove precancerous polyps, thereby potentially preventing the progression of colorectal cancer.

Let's break it down.

At-home tests, such as Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) and Cologuard® require you to collect a stool sample from the toilet and mail it to the lab for testing. These at-home tests are safe and convenient for sure, but they aren't as good at detecting polyps and precancerous lesions as colonoscopy. Also, if you have a positive result from an at-home test, you will need a full diagnostic colonoscopy, for which higher out-of-pocket expense - such as deductibles and co-pays - may apply*.

A colonoscopy on the other hand, is performed by a board-certified gastroenterologist, accompanied by trained nurses, in an ambulatory surgical setting. The procedure is pretty swift and you're under sedation the entire time. A small, flexible tube is inserted into the rectum and guided through the colon. The camera on the end allows the physician to see the entire colon on a screen, identify any polyps, and remove them immediately - hopefully before they have the chance to become cancer. One more thing to note is that screening colonoscopies are often fully covered by insurance*. Remember that a screening colonoscopy means that you have no symptoms and no positive FIT or Cologuard test.

Later in the series, we will have more specific information about each test, but consider this for now: Screenings like mammography and prostate testing are commonplace in the prevention of cancer. Colon cancer screening should be the same.

*Please check with your insurance carrier to determine your individual benefits.