Vipul Shah, MD

New York Gastroenterologist Vipul Shah, MD of Digestive Disease Associates of Rockland in Pomona and Chief of Gastroenterology at Nyack Hospital discusses what you need to know about Colorectal Screenings.

Nyack, N.Y. February 20, 2014  - If you are 50 or older and haven’t yet been screened for colorectal cancer, March—National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month—is a good time to make an appointment. Regular screening beginning at age 50 is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer.

A common colorectal screening test, a colonoscopy, can be used to remove polyps in the colon. These are small clumps of cells that form in the lining of the colon. Most polyps are harmless, but some can eventually become cancerous. Finding and removing polyps can be an effective way to prevent the development of colorectal cancer. If a person does have the cancer, screening can find it early before it has spread, when it is more treatable.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women in the United States (not counting skin cancer). It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women.  There were an estimated 102,480 cases of colon cancer and 40,340 rectal cancer cases last year, and 50,830 deaths of both types of cancer combined.       

People at average risk for colorectal cancer should use one of the three screening methods below:

  • Colonoscopy. This is the “gold standard” preferred method for colorectal cancer screening. The doctor uses a flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope to look in the rectum and the entire colon. Samples of tissue may be collected for examination, or polyps may be removed. Colon polyps are small clumps of cells that form in the lining of the colon. Most polyps are harmless, but some can eventually become cancerous. This test should be done every 10 years.

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. During this procedure, a doctor uses a flexible, lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope to look in the rectum and lower part of the colon. It should be done every five years. If the test finds polyps or cancer, a colonoscopy should be done. Some doctors recommend sigmoidoscopy should be combined with an annual fecal occult blood test (see below).

  • Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) or High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT). These tests check for hidden blood or its protein in stool samples. It should be done every year. If the test is positive, a colonoscopy should be done.

People at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening earlier and may need to be tested more frequently. People at higher risk are those who have a close relative who has had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or who have had polyps or who have a history of the colon cancer themselves; people with inflammatory bowel disease; and those who have genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis, an inherited condition that causes polyps to form in the large intestine and in the upper part of the small intestine.
Talk with your doctor about when you should begin colorectal cancer screening and how often you should be tested.


Nyack Hospital is a 375-bed community acute care medical and surgical hospital located in Rockland County, NY. Founded in 1895, it is a member of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, an affiliate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and has partnered with Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine providing clinical rotations to third-year medical students. Its mission is to provide competent, innovative and accessible emergency and acute care services to the residents of Rockland County and surrounding areas.