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Colon Cancer Screening Tests: What Are The Options?

colon-screening-boulder-medical-centerDid you know that colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women? While this statistic can be alarming, there is good news, too. Colon cancer rates have been steadily declining since the 1980s because of screening efforts.

Colon screening tests are designed to detect cancers before they cause symptoms. The USPSTF (US preventative service task force) recently changed the recommended age for colon cancer screening from 50 to 45. This is significant because American health insurance groups are required to cover, at no charge to the patient, any service the USPSTF recommends with sufficient evidence, regardless of the cost.

Types of colon screenings

There are several different tests your doctor can guide you in choosing. Each screening has its pros and cons. The options include:

Stool Test

  • Collecting a sample of your stool to examine the presence of blood or DNA markers
  • An inexpensive way to test
  • You can do these on  your own at home
  • Requires a colonoscopy for further evaluation if results are abnormal


  • Uses a Computed Tomography (CT) scan to look for colon cancer
  • Does not require sedation
  • Requires colon prep before testing
  • Requires a colonoscopy for further evaluation if test results are abnormal

Colon Capsule

  • You swallow a camera pill that takes pictures inside of the colon and sends information to a recorder
  • Avoids sedation
  • Requires colon prep before testing
  • Requires a colonoscopy for further evaluation if test results are abnormal


  • The physician’s team administers sedation and uses a flexible scope to examine your stomach lining;
  • Preventive — If you have pre-cancerous polyps, they are removed during your procedure to prevent colon cancer
  • Diagnostic — If you have cancer, it can be biopsied to confirm
  • Insurance Benefits — A colonoscopy typically falls under “preventive health” with insurance companies, so it should be little or no cost to you. On the other hand, a colonoscopy that evaluates an abnormal stool test, colonography, or colon capsule is often covered differently and can include copay and/or other charges. As always, Boulder Medical Center advises patients to check with their insurance company before scheduling any medical appointment or procedure.

Ultimately, the best screening test is always the one that gets done, so discuss with your physician which option is best for you.

Additional Resources

christie-blanton-md-gastroenterologistAbout Christie Blanton, MD

Dr. Christie Blanton is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Boulder Medical Center.

After earning a medical degree with honors at the University Of Alabama School Of Medicine, she completed her residency and fellowship at Tulane University School of Medicine. She also finished a women’s gastroenterology fellowship externship at Brown University Women’s Collaborative.

“My goal is to create a comfortable environment where anyone can come and openly speak about GI issues and concerns they may be facing,” she says. Dr. Blanton welcomes new patients to her gastroenterology clinic in Boulder.

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