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Home > > Health & WellnessScreening for Colorectal Cancer

Screening for Colorectal Cancer

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a cancer that develops in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine or bowel and the rectum is the last 5 inches of the large intestine that leads to the outer opening or anus. Colorectal cancer begins with a polyp or growth on the lining of the colon or rectum.

Why is screening for colorectal cancer important?

With over an estimated 52,000 deaths per year, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Fortunately, screening can help find a polyp or growth, many times before it becomes cancerous. If screened at recommended times, colorectal cancer can be found early, when chances of being cured are much better.

How do you screen for colorectal cancer?

There are a number of tests that screen for colorectal cancer. They can be used alone or combined, such as a Fecal Occult Blood Test and a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy.

Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): This is a test you do at home. Your doctor will give you the kit and you will place a small amount of your stool on special cards. They will be returned to either your doctor or a lab. The stool will then be checked for small amounts of blood, which can be a sign of cancer.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: The doctor inspects the rectum and lower colon with a flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope). This test detects polyps in the rectum and lower third of the colon.

Colonoscopy: This test is similar to the sigmoidoscopy, but the inside of the entire colon is examined and this flexible, lighted tube (colonoscope) is a bit longer. This test allows the doctor to remove most polyps and some cancers. Sedation is provided to decrease any discomfort.

Who needs to be concerned about colorectal cancer?

People who are 50 and older are at routine risk for colorectal cancer. The following people are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer:

  • People with ulcerative colitis;
  • People with a personal or close family history of colorectal cancer (especially if the cancer started before age 50);
  • People who have had endometrial, ovarian, or breast cancer;
  • People with a history of adenomatous polyps in the colon.

What can I do to prevent colorectal cancer?

The power is in your hands to help lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day in activities such as brisk walking or dancing
  • Don't smoke
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Get screened!. Some screening tests can find growths before they become cancer. If cancer should be found, the earlier the treatment, the better the outcome.

People at routine risk: Screening to begin at age 50 and over:

Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): annual home kit OR

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: every 5 years OR

Fecal Occult Blood Test and Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: annual FOBT home kit and sigmoidoscopy every 5 years OR

Colonoscopy: every 10 years

People at increased risk: You may need to be screened earlier and more often. You may also be referred for a colonoscopy. Be sure to talk with your doctor for advice.

For more information on colorectal cancer, visit cancer.org Link Opens in a New Window or cdc.gov Link Opens in a New Window.

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