Screening is the most reliable way of detecting colorectal cancer early. Most people ages 50 to 74 are at average risk of colorectal cancer, meaning they don’t have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with a history of colorectal cancer. It is recommended that people at average risk get screened with the fecal occult blood test every 2 years.
Fecal Occult Blood Test
A fecal occult blood test (the recommended colorectal cancer screening test for most people, also called an FOBT) is a safe and painless cancer screening test that checks a person’s stool (poop) for tiny drops of blood, which can be caused by colorectal cancer:
- The test only takes a few minutes a day on 3 separate days to complete.
- Once the samples are collected, they are sent to a lab for testing (using the postage-paid envelope provided in the kit or by returning the kit to a specimen collection centre).
- At the lab, a technician uses special equipment to test the stool samples for blood.
- If blood is found, the test result is abnormal and follow-up is needed. Although most people who have blood in their stool don’t have colorectal cancer, a follow-up test called a colonoscopy is required to find out if cancer is present.
- If no blood is found in the stool, the test result is normal. People with a normal test should re-screen using the fecal occult blood test every 2 years.
If you completed a ColonCancerCheck fecal occult blood test, Cancer Care Ontario will send you a letter with your test result. Your family doctor or nurse practitioner will also receive a copy of your test result. Download a test result letter sample.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a colorectal cancer screening procedure that looks at the lining of the rectum and sigmoid colon (lower third of the colon). During the procedure, a doctor or a registered nurse endoscopist can also take biopsies (samples of tissue) or remove polyps. You do not need sedation (medication that helps you relax or sleep) for a flexible sigmoidoscopy.
In Ontario, a doctor can do the procedure or, in some regions, a specially-trained registered nurse can do the procedure under the medical direction of a doctor as part of the Registered Nurse Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Program.
Who is eligible for flexible sigmoidoscopy?
You are eligible for colorectal cancer screening at a registered nurse flexible sigmoidoscopy site if you meet the following requirements:
- You are between the ages of 50 to 74.
- You are at average risk of colorectal cancer:
- No first-degree relative diagnosed with the disease (parent, sibling or child)
- No personal history of pre-cancerous colorectal polyps requiring surveillance or inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- You don’t have any symptoms.
- You are due for colorectal cancer screening:
- No FOBT in the past 2 years, flexible sigmoidoscopy in the past 10 years or colonoscopy in the past 10 years
A referral from your family doctor or nurse practitioner is needed to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy.
If you have questions about whether this procedure is right for you, please speak to your family doctor or nurse practitioner for more information.
A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows a doctor to look at the lining of the rectum and colon using a long, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end. During a colonoscopy, the doctor can also take biopsies (samples of tissue) or remove abnormal growths.
People who have symptoms, abnormal results from a fecal occult blood test or a family history of colorectal cancer may need a colonoscopy. It’s recommended that you have a colonoscopy within 8 weeks of your abnormal fecal occult blood test result.
A colonoscopy usually lasts half an hour, and you can receive medication (a sedative) to make you comfortable. Many people will not require another colonoscopy and will be able to screen again with a fecal occult blood test in 10 years. A few people may need to repeat the colonoscopy every 5 or 10 years, depending on their medical history.
To learn more about what happens during a colonoscopy or what to do after receiving an abnormal fecal occult blood test result, see the Abnormal FOBT Result FAQs.