Colon Cancer Screenings

What You Need to Know About Colon Cancer Screening

According to the American Cancer Society* colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S., and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women. What many people don’t know is that it’s largely preventable. You can significantly reduce your risk with regular screenings, by watching your weight and being physically active.

Regular screening is the best way to find colon cancer early. Some screening tests may even be able to prevent colon cancer entirely by finding certain types of polyps in the colon that could become cancerous.

But When Should You Start?

People who have no identified risk factors other than age — should begin testing for colon cancer at age 50. If you have a family history of this cancer or have other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, you should talk with your doctor about starting earlier.

There are several different tests that can find colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk use one of the screening tests below:

• Tests that find polyps & cancer:
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years**
• Colonoscopy every 10 years
• Tests that mainly find cancer:
• Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year**,***
• Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain*

Ask your doctor which option is best for you.

Colon Cancer Signs & Symptoms

If you notice a change in bowel habits, dark stools, rectal bleeding, cramping/abdominal pain or persistent weakness and fatigue, see your doctor right away. Most of these symptoms are likely to be caused by conditions other than colon cancer, but they could also be signs of colon cancer, so you should get checked out immediately. Don’t wait, you have a much better chance of fighting colon cancer if it’s found early.

*Source:, revised 2/25/10.

**Colonoscopy should be done if test results are positive.

***For FOBT or FIT used as a screening test, the take-home multiple sample method should be used. An FOBT or FIT done during a digital rectal exam in the doctor’s office is not adequate for screening.