Screening for colorectal cancer
Some tests can prevent colorectal cancer. Screening tests look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear. Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone age 50 and older who has a normal risk for colon cancer. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent testing if you have a higher risk for colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.
Fewer than half of people who are older than 50 are screened for colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, if everyone were tested, tens of thousands of lives could be saved each year.
The following guidelines are for people who do not have an increased risk for colorectal cancer.
Stool test,* such as the Reference fecal occult blood test (FOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), or stool DNA test (sDNA)
Every year for the FOBT and FIT
Every 5 years for sDNA
|Every 5 years|
|Every 10 years|
Reference Computed tomographic colonography (CTC), also called a virtual colonoscopy
Every 5 years
*Others recommend combining a stool test with a sigmoidoscopy.
Recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
- People ages 50 to 75 should have a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
- People who have a sigmoidoscopy every 5 years should also have a stool test (FOBT) at regular intervals.
- Some people older than 75 may benefit from screening tests. Others may not. Talk to your doctor about continuing testing for colon cancer after age 75.
Recommendations from other groups
- The American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), and the American College of Gastroenterologists (ACG) recommend routine testing for people age 50 and older who have a normal risk for colon cancer. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent testing if you have a Reference higher risk for colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.
For more information, see:
Here are other things you can do to help prevent colorectal cancer:
- Watch your weight. Being very overweight may increase your risk. And carrying extra fat around the waist seems to be more of a risk than carrying extra fat in the hips or thighs.
- Eat well. Healthy eating includes a variety of foods. Eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish. And eat less red meat, refined grains, and sweets.
- Limit drinking. Drink less than 2 alcohol drinks a day. People who drink 2 or more alcohol drinks a day have a slightly higher risk for colorectal cancer.Reference 2
- Get active. Keep up a physically active lifestyle. Being fit leads to an improved sense of well-being, improved appearance, and increased stamina and strength.
- Quit smoking. If you smoke cigarettes, quit smoking to reduce your risk.
What to think about
If you have a very strong family history of colon cancer, you may want to talk to your doctor or a genetic counselor about having a blood test to look for changed genes. Reference Genetic testing can tell you whether you carry a changed, or mutated, gene that can cause colon cancer. Having certain genes greatly increases your risk of colon cancer.
You have a very strong family history if each of the following is true:
- You have at least three relatives who have had colon cancer, and at least one of them is a parent, brother, or sister.
- Those relatives are spread over two generations in a row (for example, a parent and a grandparent).
- One of those relatives had cancer before age 50.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference October 22, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Reference Kenneth Bark, MD - Surgery, Colon and Rectal