Get Tested for Colorectal Cancer

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

If you are age 50 to 75, get tested regularly for colorectal (“koh-loh-REK-tul”) cancer. A special test (called a screening) can help prevent colorectal cancer or find it early, when it’s easier to treat.

You may need to get tested before age 50 or after age 75 if colorectal cancer runs in your family. Talk with your doctor and ask about your risk for colorectal cancer.

How often should I get screened?
How often you need to get screened will depend on:

  • Your risk for colorectal cancer
  • Which screening test you choose

How do I decide which test to take?

There are different ways to test for colorectal cancer. Your doctor can help you decide which test you would prefer.

Before you talk with your doctor about which test to get, it can be helpful to think about your values and preferences. To find out which test you would prefer, answer these questions – then share the results with your doctor.

Together, you and your doctor can make a screening plan that’s right for you.

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The Basics: What to Expect

What are the different kinds of tests?

Several different kinds of tests can be used to screen for colorectal cancer. The main types are:

  • Stool-based tests
  • Tests that look directly inside the colon and rectum

Stool tests are done at home. You collect a stool (poop) sample and return it to your doctor

Tests that look directly at your colon and rectum – like a colonoscopy – are done in a doctor's office. For these tests, you need to take a laxative to clean out your bowels and you will get anesthesia.

Your doctor will tell you how to get ready for your test, including if you need to avoid certain foods beforehand. Learn more about colorectal cancer screening tests.

Does it hurt to get a colonoscopy?

Some people find preparing for a colonoscopy to be unpleasant, but most people agree that the benefits to their health outweigh any discomfort. And getting anesthesia means you won’t have any pain during the test.

To learn more, check out these stories from real people about colonoscopies.

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The Basics: Colorectal Cancer

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a term that’s used for cancer that develops in the colon or the rectum. The colon is the longest part of the large intestine. The rectum is the bottom part of the large intestine.

Picture of the colon, the part of the large instestine attached to the rectum.

Like other types of cancer, colorectal cancer can spread to other parts of your body. Find out more about colorectal cancer.

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The Basics: Am I at Risk?

Am I at risk for colorectal cancer?

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases as you get older. That’s why screening is recommended for everyone age 50 to 75.

Other risk factors are:

  • Having polyps (growths) inside the colon
  • Having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Having obesity
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Having certain health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, that cause chronic inflammation (ongoing irritation) of the small intestine and colon

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

Take control – act early.

If you start getting screened at age 50, you have a good chance of preventing colorectal cancer or finding it when it can be treated more easily.

  • Polyps found inside your colon during testing can be removed before they become cancer.
  • If a screening finds cancer, you can take steps to treat it right away.
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Take Action!

Take Action: Get Tested

The best way to prevent colorectal cancer — or find it early — is to get tested starting at age 50.

Talk with your doctor about getting screened.

Print these questions to ask your doctor about colorectal cancer screening. Take them to your next checkup.

What about cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, most insurance plans must cover screening for colorectal cancer. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you.

To learn more about other preventive services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Get support.

If you are nervous about getting a colorectal cancer test, get support.

  • Ask a family member or friend to go with you.
  • Talk with people you know who have been screened to learn what to expect.

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.

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Take Action: Healthy Habits

Quit smoking.

People who smoke are more likely to get colorectal cancer. If you smoke, make a plan to quit today

Watch your weight.

Being overweight increases your chance of developing colon cancer. Find out how to control your weight

Get active.

Regular exercise may help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. Take these steps to get moving today.

Drink alcohol only in moderation.

Drinking too much alcohol may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. If you choose to drink, have only a moderate (limited) amount. This means:

  • No more than 1 drink a day for women
  • No more than 2 drinks a day for men

Talk with your doctor about taking aspirin every day. 

Taking aspirin every day can lower your risk of colorectal cancer, heart attack, and stroke. But it’s not right for everyone. If you are age 50 to 59 and have risk factors for heart disease, ask your doctor if daily aspirin is right for you.

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