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-tuhl”) cancer. All it takes is a special test (called a screening).

You may need to get tested before age 50 if colorectal cancer runs in your family. Most people can stop getting screened after age 75. Talk with your doctor and ask about your risk for colorectal cancer.

How often should I get screened?
How often you get screened will depend on your risk for colorectal cancer. It will also depend on 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 through what matters to you in a test — in other words, 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 happens during the test?

There are different kinds of tests used to screen for colorectal cancer. Some tests you can do at home, such as a stool test. Other tests, such as a colonoscopy, must be done in a doctor's office or hospital.

You may need to drink only clear liquids (like water or plain tea) the day before your test and use laxatives to clean out your colon. Your doctor will tell you how to get ready for your test. Learn more about colorectal cancer screening tests.Does it hurt to get tested?

Some people find the tests for colorectal cancer to be uncomfortable. Most people agree that the benefits to their health outweigh the discomfort. Read real people’s stories about colorectal cancer screening.

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The Basics: Colorectal Cancer

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a term that’s used for both colon cancer and rectal cancer. 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?

People over age 50 are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Other risk factors are:

  • Polyps (growths) inside the colon
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, that cause chronic inflammation (ongoing irritation) of the intestines

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

Take control – act early.

If you act early, 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 you find out you have cancer after you get tested, 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 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 services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

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

Eat healthy.

Eating healthy foods that are low in certain kinds of fat – and high in calcium and fiber – may help prevent colorectal cancer. 

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, ask your doctor if daily aspirin is right for you.

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