CDC: Too Many Adults Take Unnecessary Colorectal Cancer Risk

Screening prevents second biggest cancer killer in U.S.

Press Release

Embargoed Until: Thursday, March 12, 2020, 1:00 p.m. ET
Contact: Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

There’s a reason colorectal cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the U.S.: Many adults wait too long to get screened.

The vast majority of colorectal cancers occur after age 50. Screening catches abnormal growths (polyps) in the colon and rectum before they become cancers. These polyps can be removed without surgery. Yet only 1 in 2 adults are up to date with colorectal cancer screening by their early 50s (ages 50–54), compared to 81% in their early 70s, according to the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorectal cancer is highly preventable. About 20–30% of adults screened will have precancerous polyps in their colon, which can be removed before they turn into cancer. About 9 out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated appropriately are still alive five years later.

There are six different ways adults can get screened for colorectal cancer: the fecal occult blood test (FOBT), the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), the multi-target stool DNA (FIT-DNA) test, computed tomographic colonography (CTC), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. Some of these tests can done either at home or in a clinic. It’s important for adults to discuss best and preferred options with their healthcare providers.

Robert Redfield, M.D., CDC director

“Colorectal cancer is highly preventable, but men and women in the U.S. are waiting too long to get screened,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “If you are going to be 50 soon, it’s time to talk with your healthcare provider about the kind of colorectal cancer screening that is best for you.”

New data point to greatest need for more colorectal cancer screening

Using data from the 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), CDC researchers estimated the percentages of adults ages 50 to 75 who reported colorectal cancer screening. Some findings include:

  • 68.8% of adults were up to date with screening: 79.2% of those age 65–75, but only 63.3% of those age 50–64.
  • At ages 50–64, screening was lowest among those without health insurance (32.6%) and highest among those with a reported household income of $75,000 or more (70.8%).
  • Among states, the screening rate was highest in Massachusetts (76.5%) and lowest in Wyoming (57.8%).

People in their early 50s delay getting their first colorectal cancer screening test

Lisa Richardson, M.D., director, CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control

“Colorectal cancer screening is a process that begins with a conversation between the healthcare provider and patient. We should educate more people well before the age of 50 years about the benefit of screening so screening can start promptly at age 50. On-time screening can prevent or detect colorectal cancer early when treatment is more effective.”

Colorectal cancer screening facts:

  • At its early stages, colorectal cancer often does not cause symptoms.
  • Many kinds of colorectal cancer screening tests can be done in the clinic or at home. Talk with a healthcare provider about the kind of screening test that’s right for you.
  • The majority of colorectal cancers happen in people with no family history of the disease.
  • Colorectal cancer screening is a process. Most people need to be screened more than once in a lifetime. Talk to your healthcare providers about a screening schedule based on your risk and initial screening results.
  • Preventive healthcare services like colorectal screening are often covered at no cost by most public and private health insurers. Check with your insurance provider to confirm which benefits are covered for colorectal cancer preventive and diagnostic before screening.

What can healthcare providers do to increase screening for colorectal cancer?

  • Take advantage of any medical visit to tell patients they need to begin regular screening starting at age 50.
  • Let patients know there is more than one test option that can be done in the clinic or at home.
  • Offer recommended test options with advice about each.
  • Use reminder systems to notify patients when to get a test done and if they need any follow-up services or care.

What can everyone do to prevent colorectal cancer or find it early?

  • Learn about the six different screening test options.
  • Talk to your doctor about the best test for you based on your preferences.
  • Find out if you’re at higher risk than most people because of family history or other reasons.
  • Ask about which tests are covered by insurance.
  • Don’t wait: Use age 50 as your time to prevent colorectal cancer or find it early, when treatments work best.

To read the entire Vital Signs report, visit

For more information about CDC’s work on colorectal cancer, please visit and

About Vital Signs

Vital Signs is a report that appears as part of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vital Signs provides the latest data and information on key health threats. Some topics include cancer, HIV/AIDS, prescription drug overdoses, antibiotic resistance, suicides, asthma, and global health.


CDC works 24/7 protecting America’s health, safety and security. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are curable or preventable, chronic or acute, or from human activity or deliberate attack, CDC responds to America’s most pressing health threats. CDC is headquartered in Atlanta and has experts located throughout the United States and the world.