Are Noninvasive Colon Screening Tests The Future Of Colon Cancer Prevention?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a balanced diet and staying active, can help to ensure you are doing your best to stay well. However, for many different health concerns, such as cancer, routine screenings are recommended to help ensure that any abnormalities or concerns are addressed as soon as possible, according to Medical News Today. There are screening processes that require very little from the patient, but other processes, such as the colonoscopy, can be more invasive and uncomfortable leading many to simply avoid the procedure altogether. Fortunately, newer advancements in healthcare now offer noninvasive options for some cancer screenings, including colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the United States, excluding skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. Most colon cancers form from the development of polyps along the rectum or colon (via Medical News Today). Luckily, early screening can allow for the detection of these polyps, which can lead to removal before they become cancerous. Early screening options for colon or rectal (colorectal cancer) are stool-based and visual testing. These include colonoscopy, CT colonography, flexible sigmoidoscopy, stool DNA test, guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), and fecal immunochemical test (FIT), as per the American Cancer Society.

Screening options

Although there are a few different options for screening, colonoscopy, stool DNA test, FIT and gFOBT are the most commonly used screening procedures, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure in which a long flexible tube with a camera attached to the end is inserted into the rectum. The procedure can take 30 to 60 minutes and provides your doctor with a detailed view of the colon. Additionally, tissue samples can be obtained during this procedure, if there are polyps or other concerns. If no abnormalities are discovered, the test is repeated every 10 years. While the colonoscopy is considered one of the best assessment tools for determining the presence of polyps or abnormalities in the colon, the procedure is invasive and requires both preparation and sedation of the patient.

In stool-based tests, a fecal sample is collected and analyzed for indicators of potentially cancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. During a stool DNA test, experts examine the fecal matter for specific DNA and gene cells that result from polyps (via American Cancer Society). While a FIT and gFOBT are both used to detect small amounts of blood in the stool, red meat and certain medications need to be avoided days before a gFOBT is used. However, both are available to take at home, and provide your doctor with the samples.

Are noninvasive tests accurate?

A recent study examined two noninvasive methods to screen for colon cancer, FIT screening and multi-target stool DNA test (mt-sDNA), in terms of their cost. When discussing the noninvasive methods, some discrepancies regarding the FIT screening and the multi-target stool DNA test (mt-sDNA) were found. In terms of accuracy for detecting the presence of polyps in the colon and rectum, mt-sDNA is slightly more effective, as not all polyps will bleed, thus making detection by the FIT screening more challenging, as explained by Medical News Today. Additionally, experts in the study did find FIT to be less expensive. However, some interference from certain food and medication should be expected (via Mayo Clinic). Therefore, some may opt to go for the multi-target stool DNA test.

Regardless, both the FIT and mt-sDNA tests have provided significant impact for offering individuals a noninvasive means of early screening (via Medical News Today). Those who have had positive results from either screening are diagnosed with a form of colorectal cancer after receiving follow-up exams. Though colonoscopy remains the most effective means of screening, doctors seem to agree that noninvasive colon cancer screenings can be a progressive preliminary step to determining cancer risk.