Diagnosis & Staging

What is a polyp?

A polyp is a precancerous growth that can sometimes be benign (not cancerous). Most colon cancers start out as a polyp.

How do I know if I have a polyp?

The only way to know if you have a polyp is by getting screened. This involves having a colonoscopy, a procedure that checks for polyps and can remove them.

When should I start getting screened or checked for colon cancer?

If you have no family history of colon cancer, most doctors recommend that you start getting screened at the age of 50. If you have a family history, other risk factors or symptoms, you should talk with your doctor about the right timing for you.

How often should I get screened?

Most people should get screened for colon cancer between every five and 10 years. Your timing depends on your family history and whether or not your doctor finds a polyp.

How is colon cancer diagnosed?

There are several tests and exams that may be used, including:

  • Colonoscopy the screening test that examines the entire colon and rectum for polyps, abnormal areas or cancer
  • Stool DNA to test for suspicious cells 
  • Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) to test for blood in the feces
  • Guaiac Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) to test for blood in the feces
  • Virtual Colonoscopy using X-rays to take images of your colon
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy looks for polyps in the left and right side of the colon, including the rectum

How should I prepare for a colonoscopy?

The Colon Cancer Alliance has compiled a great guide to help patients with tips to prepare for a colonoscopy.

What does staging mean?

Once you have been diagnosed with colon cancer, your doctor will check to see if it has spread to other organs in your body and if so, how far. This is called ‘staging.’ It is important to know the stage of your cancer in order to make your treatment plan.

To learn more about the stage of your colon cancer, visit the American Cancer Society

What is my outlook?

How people fare after colon cancer varies. Long-term survival depends on the stage of your cancer at the time of diagnosis and how your cancer and body respond to treatment.