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Get Tested for Colorectal Cancer

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    Content last updated on:
    February 13, 2013

    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 with your doctor.

    How often should I 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 to get screened.

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

    The Basics

    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, such as 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.

    The Basics

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

    What is colorectal cancer?
    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:

    The Basics

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

    • Polyps (growths) inside the colon
    • Family history of colorectal cancer
    • Smoking
    • Obesity
    • Lack of physical activity
    • Drinking too much alcohol
    • Health conditions, such as Crohn’s Disease, which causes chronic (ongoing) inflammation (swelling) of the intestines

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

    The Basics

    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!

    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 HealthCare.gov.

    Take Action!

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

    Give support.
    Do you know someone age 50 or older who hasn’t been tested for colorectal cancer yet? Use these tips to start a conversation about the importance of screening.

    Take Action!

    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.

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