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March 2021

Have You Been Screened for a Common Cancer?

Many people don’t delay scheduling their health checks for breast cancer, cervical cancer, or other diseases. But when it comes to screenings for cancer of the colon and rectum, a lot of us procrastinate.

Why you shouldn’t wait

The fact is, this screening isn’t as bad as you think. It’s not painful and it’s fast. Even invasive testing like a colonoscopy may take only 30 minutes. And that’s time well spent because screening can detect cancer in its early stages. Tests can also locate abnormal growths—called polyps—years before cancer develops.

How effective is screening? According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), regular testing could save your life. Tests help find growths before they get too large or before the cancer spreads to other areas of the body.

Who needs screening

The ACS recommends people with an average risk for colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45, while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises beginning screening at age 50. Talk with your healthcare provider about the screening schedule that works best for you.

If you have an increased risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to get tested at an earlier age. This includes people with:

  • A personal history of polyps or colorectal cancer

  • A strong family history of polyps or colorectal cancer

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Multiple choice

You have several choices when it comes to screening:

  • A test for hidden blood in the stool, called a guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), every year

  • A CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy), a scan that uses X-rays and special computer programs to create a 3-D view of the inside of the colon and rectum, every five years

  • A colonoscopy, a procedure that checks the entire colon and rectum with a camera, every 10 years

You may need more frequent testing depending on your health history.

If you’re due for a screening, ask your provider which test—or combination of tests—he or she recommends and why. Ask about the risks and benefits of each method. Your provider can explain what’s involved so that you can choose based on your personal preference and health history. And don’t forget to check which tests are covered by your insurance plan.




Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2021
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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