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March Is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Photo: Two senior men

Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk?

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The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, but many people are not being screened according to national guidelines.

If you're 50 years old or older, getting a screening test for colorectal cancer could save your life. Here's how—

  • Colorectal cancer screening helps find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented.
  • Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment often leads to a cure.

In addition to increasing the intensity and amount of your physical activity, avoiding obesity and weight gain around the midsection, and not drinking too much alcohol, you can also lower your colorectal cancer risk by not smoking. The 2014 Surgeon General's Report, The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress concluded that smoking causes colorectal cancer. If you smoke, quit smoking completely. For help quitting, call 1 (800) QUIT-NOW, text the word "QUIT" to 47848 from your mobile phone, or visit smokefree.gov. If you don't smoke, don't start, and avoid secondhand smoke.

What Are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?

Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don't always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. Symptoms for colorectal cancer may include—

  • Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).
  • Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away.
  • Losing weight and you don't know why.

These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. If you have any of these symptoms, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

When Should You Begin to Get Screened?

Photo: A concerned middle aged woman.

You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then keep getting screened regularly until the age of 75. Ask your doctor if you should be screened if you're older than 75.

Some people are at a higher risk than others for developing colorectal cancer. Having any of these things may increase your risk—

If you think you may be at high risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about when and how often to get tested.

What Are the Screening Tests for Colorectal Cancer?

Several tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer. Some are used alone; others are used in combination with each other. Talk with your doctor about which test or tests are best for you. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends these tests to screen for colorectal cancer—

  • Colonoscopy (every 10 years).
  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), stool test, or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (every year).
  • Sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years, with FOBT every three years).

How Can I Pay for Screening Tests?

Many insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening. Check with your plan to find out which tests are covered for you. To find out about Medicare coverage, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

Where feasible, the 25 states and four tribes in CDC's Colorectal Cancer Control Program provide colorectal cancer screening and follow-up care to low-income men and women aged 50–64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when resources are available and there is no other payment option.

Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign

CDC's Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign informs men and women who are 50 years old or older about the importance of having regular colorectal cancer screening tests.

Photo of Meryl Streep

In 2013, Academy Award® winner Meryl Streep joined the Screen for Life campaign, appearing in new public service announcements (PSAs). Ms. Streep talks about how much there is in life that we can’t control, but says here’s something we can: colorectal cancer. She describes her own screening experience, and urges men and women to get screened beginning at age 50.

Screen for Life also offers resources for patients and health professionals. Print materials, including fact sheets, brochures, and posters, can be viewed, printed, and ordered online. Television and radio public service announcements can be viewed and heard online.

More Information

 
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