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Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

It takes guts to put your health first! If you’re 45 or older, talk to your doctor about Colorectal Cancer screening. See your options at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/screening/tests.htm.

Basic Information About Colorectal Cancer

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Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the colon or rectum, it is called colorectal cancer. Sometimes it is called colon cancer, for short.

Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Screening can find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—that can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage when treatment works best. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated appropriately are still alive five years later.

If you are 45 years old or older, get screened now. If you think you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for you, and how often to get tested.

colon and rectum

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Sometimes it is called colon cancer, for short.

What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer?

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Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older but getting regular physical activity and keeping a healthy weight may help lower your risk.

Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older. Other risk factors include having:

Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer include:

Tobacco use.

What Is Colorectal Cancer Screening?

A screening test is used to look for a disease when a person doesn’t have symptoms. (When a person has symptoms, diagnostic tests are used to find out the cause of the symptoms.)

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.

Screening Recommendations

Regular screening, beginning at age 45, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer and finding it early. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force) recommends that adults aged 45 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. The Task Force recommends that adults aged 76 to 85 talk to their doctor about screening.

The Task Force recommends several colorectal cancer screening strategies, including stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Learn about these screening tests.

When Should I Begin to Get Screened?

Most people should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 45, then continue getting screened at regular intervals. However, you may need to be tested earlier than 45, or more often than other people, if you have—

If you think you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about:

  • When to begin screening.
  • Which test is right for you.
  • How often to get tested.

Insurance and Medicare Coverage

Colorectal cancer screening tests may be covered by your health insurance policy without a deductible or co-pay. For more information about Medicare coverage, visit https://www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1 (877) 486-2048. Check with your insurance plan to find out what benefits are covered for colorectal cancer screening.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Colorectal Cancer:

  • Do I need to get a screening test for colorectal cancer?
  • What screening test(s) do you recommend for me? Why?
  • How do I prepare? Do I need to change my diet or my usual medication before taking the test?
  • What’s involved in the test? Will it be uncomfortable or painful?
  • Is there any risk involved?
  • When and from whom will I get results?

If you’re having a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, you will want to know:

  • Who will do the exam?
  • Will I need someone with me?

If You’re at Increased Risk

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 (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome). These people may need to start screening earlier than age 45. If you believe you are at increased risk, ask your doctor if you should begin screening earlier than age 45.

If You’re Having Symptoms

Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A change in bowel habits.
  • Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
  • Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away.
  • Weight loss and you don’t know why.

These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know what is causing them is to speak with your doctor about them.