Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Lives
Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.
When Should I Get Screened?
You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then continue getting screened at regular intervals. However, you may need to be tested earlier than 50 or more often than other people if—
- You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
- You have inflammatory bowel disease.
- You have genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.
Speak with your doctor about when you should begin screening and how often you should be tested.
What is Colorectal Cancer Screening?
A screening test is used to look for a disease when a person is not experiencing any symptoms. Cancer screening tests, including those for colorectal cancer, are effective when they can detect disease early. Detecting disease early can lead to more effective treatment. In some cases, screening tests can detect something that shouldn't be there, such as a polyp in the colon or rectum, before it has a chance to turn into cancer. Removing polyps in the colon and rectum prevents colorectal cancer from developing. (A diagnostic test differs from a screening test because it is used when a person has symptoms. A diagnostic test is used to find the cause of the symptoms.)
Free or Low-cost Screening
CDC's Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) provides funding to 25 states and four tribes across the United States. The program supports population-based screening efforts and provides colorectal cancer screening services to low-income men and women aged 50–64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when no other insurance is available. In addition to colorectal cancer screening, the program sites also provide diagnostic follow-up.
If you live in one of the CRCCP-funded states, you may be eligible for free or low-cost colorectal cancer screening. If you are not eligible for the program, or live outside the areas in which the CRCCP operates, please call 1 (800) 4-CANCER or 1 (800) ACS-2345 to learn more about screening options in your community. You also may be able to find information about free or low-cost screening by calling your local department of health.
Types of Screening Tests
Several different screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. Each can be used alone, or sometimes in combination with each other. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends colorectal cancer screening for men and women aged 50–75 using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor about which test or tests are right for you. The decision to be screened after age 75 should be made on an individual basis. If you are older than 75, ask your doctor if you should be screened.
- High-Sensitivity FOBT (Stool T est)—There are two types of FOBT—one uses the chemical guaiac, while the other (the fecal immunochemical test, or FIT) uses antibodies to find blood in the stool. You receive a test kit from your health care provider. At home, you use a stick or brush to obtain a small amount of stool. You return the test to the doctor or a lab, where stool samples are checked for blood.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscop y (Flex Sig)—The doctor puts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum, and checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. This test may be used in combination with the FOBT.
- Colonoscopy—This is similar to flex sig, except the doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers.Colonoscopy also is used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests.