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Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines

Photo: A doctor with a patient

Regular screening, beginning at age 50, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer.1 The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for colorectal cancer using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75 years.1

People at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening at a younger age, and may need to be tested more frequently. The decision to be screened after age 75 should be made on an individual basis. If you are older than 75, ask your doctor if you should be screened. For more information, read the current colorectal cancer screening guidelines from the USPSTF.

Recommended screening tests and intervals2 are—

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which checks for hidden blood in three consecutive stool samples; should be done every year.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy, where physicians use a flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope) to look at the interior walls of the rectum and part of the colon; should be done every five years with FOBT every three years.
  • Colonoscopy, where physicians use a flexible, lighted tube (colonoscope) to look at the interior walls of the rectum and the entire colon; should be done every 10 years. During this procedure, samples of tissue may be collected for closer examination, or polyps may be removed. Colonoscopies can be used as screening tests or as follow-up diagnostic tools when the results of another screening test are positive.
    • Colonoscopy also is used as a diagnostic test when a person has symptoms, and it can be used as a follow-up test when the results of another colorectal cancer screening test are unclear or abnormal.

References

1U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for Colorectal Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. AHRQ Publication 08-05124-EF-3, October 2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

2U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2008: Recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. AHRQ Publication No. 08-05122, September 2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

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