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Get Tested for Colorectal Cancer

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The Basics

If you are age 50 or older, get tested regularly for colorectal (“koh-loh-REK-tuhl”) cancer. All it takes is a visit to the doctor to have a special exam (called a screening).

You may need to get tested before age 50 if colorectal cancer runs in your family. Talk to your doctor.

How often do I need to get screened?
How often you get screened will depend on your risk for colorectal cancer. It will also depend on which screening test is used.

There are different ways to test for colorectal cancer. Some tests are done every 1 to 2 years. Other tests are done every 5 to 10 years.

Your doctor can help you decide which test is right for you and how often you need to get screened.

Most people can stop getting screened after age 75. Talk with your doctor.

What happens during the test?
There are different kinds of tests used to screen for colorectal cancer. Some tests you can do at home, such as a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). Other tests, like a colonoscopy, must be done in a clinic or hospital.

You may need to drink only clear liquids (like water or plain tea) the day before your test and use laxatives to clean out your colon. Your doctor will tell you how to get ready for your test.

Does it hurt?
Some people find the tests for colorectal cancer to be uncomfortable. Most people agree that the benefits to their health outweigh the discomfort.

Picture of the colon, the part of the large instestine attached to the rectum.
The colon is part of the large intestine attached to the rectum.

What is colorectal cancer?
The colon is part of the large intestine attached to the rectum.

Cancer of the colon or rectum is also called colorectal cancer. Like other types of cancer, colorectal cancer can spread to other parts of your body.

To learn more about colorectal cancer, visit these Web sites:

Am I at risk for colorectal cancer?
People over the age of 50 are at the highest risk for colorectal cancer. Other risk factors are:

  • Polyps (growths) inside the colon
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Smoking
  • Health conditions like Crohn’s Disease, which causes chronic (ongoing) inflammation (swelling) of the intestines

Use this calculator to find out your risk for colorectal cancer.

Take control – act early.
If you act early, you have a good chance of preventing colorectal cancer or finding it when it can be treated more easily.

  • If your doctor finds polyps inside your colon during testing, these growths can be removed before they become cancer.
  • If you find out you have cancer when you are tested, you can take steps to treat it right away.

Take Action!

The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get tested starting at age 50.

Talk with your doctor about getting screened.
Print these questions for your doctor about colorectal cancer screening. Take them to your next checkup.

What about cost?
Screening for colorectal cancer is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.

For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Get support.
If you are going to the doctor for a colorectal cancer test, get support.

Give support.
Are you worried about a loved one who needs to get tested for colorectal cancer? Use these tips to start a conversation about the importance of screening.

Get active.
Exercise may help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

Eat healthy.
A low-fat diet full of foods with calcium and fiber may help prevent colorectal cancer. Calcium is in foods like fat-free or low-fat yogurt, cheese, and spinach. Fiber is in foods like beans, barley, and nuts.

Get tips on eating healthy and getting active.

Start Today: Small Steps

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Content last updated on: September 28, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133