Screen for Life Screen for Life
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Of cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer (sometimes called colon cancer, for short) is the second leading cancer killer in the United States. In 2005 (the most recent year for which statistics are currently available):

72,007 men and 69,398 women were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. [1] 26,781 men and 27,259 women died from the disease. [1]

If you’re 50 years old or older, getting a screening test for colorectal (colon) cancer could save your life. Here’s how:

Colorectal cancer screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment often leads to a cure. More than a third of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided if people over 50 were screened as recommended.

Precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. When a person does have symptoms for colorectal cancer, they may include –

Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement). Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away. Losing weight and you don’t know why.

These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. If you’re having any of these symptoms, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

Screening for colorectal cancer is recommended for men and women beginning at age 50. Recommended screening tests are:

Colonoscopy (once every 10 years). High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test, also known as a Stool Test (once a year). Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years).

The benefits and risks of these screening methods vary. Discuss with your doctor which test is best for you. And check with your insurance provider to find out which tests are covered by your insurance plan, and how much you will have to pay.

Some people are at increased risk because they have inflammatory bowel disease, a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or genetic syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome). These people may need to start screening earlier than age 50. If you believe you are at increased risk, ask your doctor if you should begin screening earlier than age 50.

Many insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening. Check with your plan to find out which tests are covered for you. To find out about Medicare coverage, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

If you’re 50 or older, talk with your doctor about getting screened. For more information, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).