At the OSUCCC – James, cancer research experts focus on studying rectal cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The OSUCCC – James consistently paves the way in learning more about what causes rectal cancer — leading to even more highly targeted prevention, care and treatment.

Screening for Rectal Cancer

Cancer screening exams can help find rectal cancer at its earliest stage when the chances for successful treatment, optimal outcomes and fewer side effects are greatest. These tests are usually done when a patient is healthy and has no specific symptoms.

Not only are expert cancer researchers at the OSUCCC – James continually working to detect and diagnose rectal cancer early, but they are also developing additional tests to detect and diagnose cancer even earlier, leading to improved outcomes, faster responses and fewer side effects.

Adults who are not at an elevated risk of rectal cancer should begin having screening exams at age 50. People who are at higher risk — because of a personal history of colon or rectal cancer, colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease — should be screened before they turn 50.

In addition, people who have a family history of colorectal cancer, colon polyps or of certain hereditary syndromes that put them at higher risk for colorectal cancer should also be screened before they turn 50.

Special genetic screening for Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, identifies the gene responsible for the disease early.

Rectal Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your risk of getting cancer. Risk factors for rectal cancer include:

  • Being 40 or older
  • A history of colon cancer or rectal cancer
  • A history of colorectal adenomas (noncancerous tumors)
  • Previous Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Previous cancer in the ovary, breast or endometrium
  • Colon or rectal cancer in a close family relative (parent, brother, sister or child)

The presence of risk factors does not necessarily mean you have rectal cancer. But if you have risk factors, you should discuss them with your doctor.

Screening Tests

The following screening exams are used to screen for rectal cancer in patients with no symptoms and patients with risk factors.

Fetal Occult Blood Test

A stool sample is analyzed for occult blood, or blood that only can be seen using a microscope. Patients collect test samples on special cards at home following instructions from a physician or lab.

Fecal Immunochemical Test

This is a newer test that identifies blood in stool using a chemical that reacts to a protein in red blood cells. The exam can be completed without dietary restrictions usually required for a fecal occult blood test.

Barium Enema

A radiologist takes a series of X-ray images of the lower digestive tract after placing a special liquid called barium in the rectum to highlight the lining of the intestine.


A physician analyzes the colon and rectum using a thin, flexible tube with a lighted end called a sigmoidoscope. A camera on the end of the scope can display images of the inside of the rectum, and a special tool on the scope can assist in polyp or tissue removal.


Using a tube that is slightly longer than a sigmoidoscope, a specially trained surgeon identifies any polyps or other abnormal signs in your colon and rectum. Patients must prepare for colonoscopies for one day to several days in advance.

Virtual Colonoscopy

Also called CT colonoscopy, this exam uses computed tomography to take X-ray images of the colon and rectum using a scanner that rotates around the patient. A connected computer and software produce detailed images, often in three dimensions, to reveal polyps or signs of cancer.

Genetic Tests

Samples of a patient’s blood, a cheek cell collected in mouthwash or a stool sample can be analyzed to look for changes in genes that indicate colorectal cancer.

A digital rectal examination may be performed as part of a physical examination and for your physician to evaluate rectal cancer. It is not recommended as a single screening examination for rectal cancer.

If you have received a rectal cancer diagnosis, or if you want a second opinion or just want to speak to a rectal cancer specialist, we are here to help you. Call 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute

460 West 10th Avenue

Columbus, Ohio 43210

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