Carolinas HealthCare System

IIf you’re experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer, make sure to see your healthcare provider right away. Catching this cancer early gives you an excellent chance at a full recovery.

Several tests are available to screen for or diagnose colorectal cancer, and may be used together. These include:

  • Colonoscopy: Colonoscopy uses a colonoscope, which is a flexible scope, about the width of a pinky finger, with a camera on the end, to examine the entire colon; it can also remove polyps or tissue samples that need further investigation. Patients must be sedated for a colonoscopy.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: A tiny camera with flexible plastic tubing is inserted into the rectum, providing a view of the rectum and lower colon. This procedure can also be used to remove suspicious tissue for examination.
  • Virtual colonoscopy: Instead of a scope, physicians use X-ray imaging technology to view the colon. Air is pumped into the colon to expand it for better imaging. Virtual colonoscopy can be performed with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Double contrast barium enema (DCBE): Barium is a chemical that allows the bowel lining to show up on X-ray. A barium solution is administered by enema; then the patient undergoes a series of X-rays.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): A stool sample is examined for traces of blood not visible to the naked eye.
  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): A take-home test that detects blood proteins in stool. A small, long-handled brush is used to collect a stool sample, which is placed on a test card and sent to a lab for examination.
  • Digital rectal exam: The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for polyps or other irregularities.
  • Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA): A blood test that determines the presence of CEA, a substance, or tumor marker, produced by some cancerous tumors. This test can also be used to measure tumor growth or assess if cancer has recurred after treatment.