Screening for colorectal cancer

Photo of a man and woman that could be in their early 50s, when it’s time to get screened for colorectal cancer. The man’s arm is around the woman’s shoulder.

Screening for colorectal cancer

Don’t wait — 50’s great

Screening for colorectal cancer is recommended beginning at age 50.
Screening for colorectal cancer is recommended beginning at age 50.
Screening for colorectal cancer is recommended beginning at age 50.

But only one-half of adults have gotten a screening test in their early 50s (age 50–54).
But only one-half of adults have gotten a screening test in their early 50s (age 50–54).
But only one-half of adults have gotten a screening test in their early 50s (age 50–54).

There are six different screening tests, some that can be done either at home or in a clinic, that can prevent or detect cancer early.
There are six different screening tests, some that can be done either at home or in a clinic, that can prevent or detect cancer early.
There are six different screening tests, some that can be done either at home or in a clinic, that can prevent or detect cancer early.

Overview

Colorectal cancer is the #2 cancer killer of both men and women in the US. But colorectal cancer is a preventable disease. Colorectal cancer starts with a precancerous polyp (abnormal growth) in the colon, which can be removed without surgery. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults of average risk begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 50. While screening increases as people get older, national targets for screening have not been met. Adults are likely to get screened when healthcare providers talk to them about their options. Adults ages 50–75 should talk to their doctor about when they should be screened.

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

Bar chart showing that people in their early 50s are delaying getting screened for colorectal cancer. Among people age 50–75 years, screening is lowest among people age 50–54 years and highest among people age 70–75 years.

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SOURCE: CDC 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Many screening test options are available

A graphic of a house showing the three colorectal cancer screening tests that can be done at home: the Fecal Immunochemical Test, the FIT-DNA Test, and the Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). A graphic of a doctor’s bag showing the tests that can be done on an outpatient basis, including Colonoscopy, Computed Tomography (CT) Colonography, and Flexible Sigmoidoscopy.

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SOURCE: CDC Vital Signs, March 2020

Problem
Not starting screening at 50

Question: What if I don’t have any symptoms?
Answer: Colorectal cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms early on.

Question: Is the test unpleasant or embarrassing?
Answer: There are several kinds of tests that can be done in the clinic or at home. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best option for you.

Question: Do I need to be screened if no one in my family had colorectal cancer?
Answer: Yes. Family history can put you at higher risk, but most colorectal cancers happen in people with no family history.

The Way Forward
Healthcare Providers Can:
  • Take advantage of any medical visit to tell patients they need to get screened starting at 50.
  • Let patients know that 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 follow-up tests.
Everyone Can:
  • 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 start screening to prevent colorectal cancer or find it early, when treatments work best.

For More Information
1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636)
TTY: 1-888-232-6348
Web: www.cdc.gov

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30333
Publication date: March 12, 2020

Page last reviewed: March 12, 2020
Content source: Office of the Associate Director for Communication