Colorectal Cancer - Prevention

Screening for 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.

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
Test Frequency

Stool test, such as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or the fecal occult blood test (FOBT)

Every year

or

Sigmoidoscopy

Every 5 years*

or

Colonoscopy

Every 10 years
*Some experts recommend combining a stool test with a sigmoidoscopy.

Less common screening tests include the stool DNA test (sDNA) and computed tomographic colonography (CTC).

Recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has the following advice for colorectal cancer testing:6

  • People ages 50 to 75 should have a stool test (FIT or FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
  • People ages 76 to 85 should not be routinely screened for colorectal cancer. But there may be exceptions for some individuals.
  • People over age 85 should not be screened for colorectal cancer.
  • No recommendations are made about CT colonography (CTC, also called virtual colonoscopy) or the stool DNA test (sDNA).

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.

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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
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.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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