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Compare the Choices That Work

Each of these methods has pros and cons. What's right for you depends on how you weigh the tradeoffs in terms of benefits, harms, and cost. Identifying your preference will help you decide with your provider what is the right screening plan for you.

How effective is it?

Home Stool Test Every year
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test
Colonoscopy Every 10 years

All three of these screening methods are effective

No studies have directly compared them, but all three of these methods are considered effective at reducing the likelihood of death from colon cancer. You can improve the quality of care you receive by having procedures performed by experienced providers, properly completing bowel prep, carefully following stool test instructions, and sticking to a screening routine.

What is it like?

Home Stool Test Every year
Collecting Stool Sample from Toilet

At home

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test
Doctor Performing Sigmoidoscopy on Patient

At the doctor's office

Colonoscopy Every 10 years
Doctor Performing Colonoscopy

In an endoscopy suite or at a hospital

How long does it take?

Home Stool Test Every year

10 minutes

  • Short test
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test

1/2—1 day

  • Quick prep
  • 20-30 min procedure
  • No recovery
Colonoscopy Every 10 years

1—2 days

  • Night of prep
  • 20-40 min procedure
  • 1–2 days of recovery

How does it work?

Home Stool Test Every year
Drop of Blood

Screening

  • Looks for invisible blood, which may be a sign of cancer
  • Needs follow-up with colonoscopy if anything is found
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test
Magnifying Glass

Screening

  • Looks for polyps and signs of early cancer
  • Needs follow-up with colonoscopy if anything is found
Colonoscopy Every 10 years
Magnifying Glass and Polyp Removal Tool

Screening & Treatment

  • Finds and removes polyps before they become cancer

How often does it need to be done?

Home Stool Test Every year

Every year

  • Follow-up with a colonoscopy if blood is found
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test

Every 5 years

  • Follow-up with colonoscopy if polyps or blood are found
  • Home stool test is recommended every 3 years
  • Screening more than the recommendation unnecessarily exposes you to potential harms
Colonoscopy Every 10 years

Every 10 years

  • More frequently if polyps are found or if you have increased risk factors
  • Screening more than the recommendation unnecessarily exposes you to potential harms

What are the risks?

Home Stool Test Every year
No Risk Symbol

No Risk

  • There are no possible harms from the test itself
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test
Smaller Risk Symbol

Smaller Risk

  • Risk of excessive bleeding in about 1 of 10,000 sigmoidoscopy procedures
Colonoscopy Every 10 years
Small Risk Symbol

Small Risk

  • Risk of excessive bleeding in about 1 of 100 people who have polyps removed
  • Risk of bowel tear in about 1 of 1000 people
  • Possible reaction to the medication

Does it hurt?

Home Stool Test Every year
Blank Image

No Discomfort

  • No pain or discomfort, although you will be required to collect a few small stool samples
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test
Open Eye

Not sedated

  • Slight pressure or discomfort during the procedure, but should not be painful
  • Generally no medication given
  • Gas and cramps are common afterwards
  • Easy recovery
Colonoscopy Every 10 years
Closed Eye

Sedated

  • Medication given during the procedure helps you relax
  • Gas and cramps are common afterwards
  • Recovery experience and length can vary

What affects the cost?

Home Stool Test Every year

Dollar Sign

Free—$10

  • The type of kit
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test
2 Dollar Signs

$100—$300

  • If polyps are removed and/or biopsied
  • Where you have the procedure
Colonoscopy Every 10 years
3 Dollar Signs

$1,500—$3,000

  • If polyps are removed and/or biopsied
  • What type of anesthesia is used
  • Where you have the procedure

How easy is it to arrange?

Home Stool Test Every year

Easy

  • Commonly available from healthcare providers
  • You may need to ask for the kit
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years with a Home Stool Test

Moderate

  • May be hard to find a doctor who performs them regularly
  • Requires an appointment
Colonoscopy Every 10 years

Moderate

  • Requires a referral to a specialist
  • May be hard to find a specialist nearby
  • Requires an appointment