Colonoscopy vs. Stool-Based Tests: What is the Best Way to Detect Colon Cancer?

Oct 01, 2023

Colonoscopy vs. Stool-Based Tests: What is the Best Way to Detect Colon Cancer?

Colorectal cancers are the third most common cancer among men and women (outside of skin cancer), so it’s a disease that’s well worth screening for. Here, we discuss different tests and which one is right for you.

Your lifetime risks for colorectal cancers, which include colon cancer and rectal cancer, aren’t insignificant — about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 26 for women. In fact, excluding skin cancer, these cancers are the third most diagnosed cancer among men and women.

While some cancers can catch you unaware, we’re lucky that we have great screening protocols for colorectal cancers, which allow us to stay one step ahead of these serious diseases.

As you might imagine, the team of board-certified colorectal surgeons here at Fairfax Colon & Rectal Surgery is a big advocate of screening for colorectal cancer, and we routinely perform colonoscopies.

If you’d like to get on board with this important preventive practice but are wondering which test is best for you — stool-based tests or a colonoscopy — here are some points to consider.

Colonoscopy — a comprehensive screening

As screening tools go, a colonoscopy is one of the most comprehensive. To get started, you go on a cleanse for 24 hours before your procedure to clean out your colon.

When you arrive and check-in, we administer a sedative so that you’re perfectly comfortable during your colonoscopy. Once you’re ready, we inflate your colon with gas so that we can better see the walls and then insert the camera. We thread this tiny camera all the way to the top of your colon, covering every inch of your rectum and lower intestine.

If we spot a growth, or polyp, we remove it using specialized instruments and preserve the tissue for further study in a biopsy.

Once we’re finished, you’re free to go home.

Stool-based testing

As the name implies, stool-based testing is just that; a sample of your stool is provided in the kit and sent for testing. This testing primarily looks for signs of blood or altered DNA in your stool, which could be signs of colorectal cancer.

Choosing the right screening

While stool-based testing is certainly easier — you simply collect a sample at home and send it back for testing — it’s quite limited.

With a colonoscopy, we can not only spot potential precancerous growths inside your rectum or colon, but we can remove them, as well. This makes this preventive tool not merely observational but proactive.

On the other hand, if we find that your stool does contain blood or potentially problematic DNA through a stool-based test, your next step is a procedure like a colonoscopy that allows us to take a closer look.

Colon and Rectal Cancer can be a serious and life-threatening disease, and we don’t believe in taking shortcuts when it comes to screening. Ideally, you should start your screening with a comprehensive colonoscopy at the age of 45

If you want a clearer idea about what testing and schedule is right for your circumstances, a great place to start is to schedule a consultation with one of our team members. To get started, contact one of our offices in Fairfax, Fair Oaks, Alexandria, Gainesville, Woodbridge, or Lansdowne, Virginia.