Skip Navigation The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center

Colon Cancer Screening

Excluding skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. Fortunately, death rates from colon cancer have been dropping for 20 years, primarily because of colon cancer screening, which allows doctors to find polyps early and remove them before they turn cancerous. If early-stage colon cancer is detected during a screening, it’s much easier to treat effectively.

Here’s what you need to know about colon cancer screening:

Can colon and rectal cancer be prevented? Colorectal cancer can often be prevented. Your doctors do this by finding polyps and removing them before they turn into cancer. When to start looking for polyps depends on the person’s risk for developing colon cancer. People can be divided into average risk and high risk.

High risk people are those with:

  • Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • A family member who has/had colon cancer
  • Previous colon cancers or colon polyps

At what age do I need to be screened for colorectal cancer? Because the risk of cancer starts to increase at age 45, people at average risk should start testing at the age of 45. High risk people should get tested earlier, possibly starting at age 40. If you are in a high-risk category, you should consult your doctor about your specific history to decide what makes sense for you. According to American Cancer Society guidelines, people between the ages of 75 and 85 who are in good health should make a decision about screening based on their preferences and past screening history. People over 85 should no longer be screened for colon cancer.

What are the tests to screen for colorectal cancer? There are five tests that may be used to detect colon cancer:

  • Testing the stool for blood
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Stool DNA test
  • Specialized CT scans
  • Colonoscopy (Colonoscopy is the gold standard for early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer.)

How do I decide which colon cancer screening test to use? All of the above options are effective at early diagnosis of colon cancer, so talk to your doctor and insurance provider to choose the one that is the best option for you.

Does colon cancer screening hurt? Not at all. Many tests are noninvasive, and a full colonoscopy, while it does require some preparation, it is a relatively simple, low-risk procedure that requires virtually no recovery time. It’s also performed under general anesthesia, so you won’t be awake for the procedure and you won’t feel a thing.

What happens if I get screened for colon cancer and the result is abnormal? If you use any test other than the colonoscopy and the result is abnormal, you should follow up with a colonoscopy.

How do I get screened for colon cancer? Contact your primary care physician to discuss your risk factors and options, and to schedule a screening.