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Colorectal Cancer - Prevention

Screening for colorectal cancer

Some tests can prevent colorectal cancer. Screening tests look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear. Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone age 50 and older who has a normal risk for colon cancer. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent testing if you have a higher risk for colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.

Fewer than half of people who are older than 50 are screened for colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, if everyone were tested, tens of thousands of lives could be saved each year.

The following guidelines are for people who do not have an increased risk for colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer screening guidelines for people 50 and older at average risk

Stool test,* such as the fecal occult blood test (FOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), or stool DNA test (sDNA)

Every year for the FOBT and FIT

Every 5 years for sDNA



Every 5 years



Every 10 years


Computed tomographic colonography (CTC), also called a virtual colonoscopy

Every 5 years

*Others recommend combining a stool test with a sigmoidoscopy.

Recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

  • People ages 50 to 75 should have a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
  • People who have a sigmoidoscopy every 5 years should also have a stool test (FOBT) at regular intervals.
  • Some people older than 75 may benefit from screening tests. Others may not. Talk to your doctor about continuing testing for colon cancer after age 75.

Recommendations from other groups

  • The American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), and the American College of Gastroenterologists (ACG) recommend routine testing for people age 50 and older who have an average risk for colon cancer. Your doctor may advise being tested sooner or more often if you have a higher risk for colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.

For more information, see:

Colon Cancer: Which Screening Test Should I Have?

Your lifestyle

Here are other things you can do to help prevent colorectal cancer:

  • Watch your weight. Being very overweight may increase your risk. And carrying extra fat around the waist seems to be more of a risk than carrying extra fat in the hips or thighs.
  • Eat well. Healthy eating includes a variety of foods. Eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish. And eat less red meat, refined grains, and sweets.
  • Limit alcohol. Have less than 2 drinks a day. People who have 2 or more drinks a day have a slightly higher risk for colorectal cancer.2
  • Get active. Keep up a physically active lifestyle. Being fit helps you look better and feel better and stronger.
  • Quit smoking. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk.

Genetic testing

If you have a very strong family history of colon cancer, you may want to talk to your doctor or a genetic counselor about having a blood test to look for changed genes. Genetic testing can tell you if you carry a changed, or mutated, gene that can cause colon cancer. Having certain genes greatly increases your risk of colon cancer. But most cases of colon cancer aren't caused by changed genes.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 21, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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