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Colorectal cancer: Convincing evidence to say yes to a test

This important screening may help stop cancer before it starts

Who hasn’t procrastinated? Most of us do it at some point. But if you’re putting off screening for colorectal cancer, you’re missing out on a test that could help save your life.

Screening may spot colorectal cancer early, when it may be easier to treat. Better yet: Getting tested might even help prevent the disease.

Most colorectal cancers start as growths in the colon or rectum called polyps. But some screening tests allow doctors to find and remove polyps before they turn into cancer. 

Which test is for me?

Colorectal screening is recommended for most people ages 50 to 75. But if you’re at high risk, you may need to be tested sooner. You may also need more frequent testing. Your doctor can help you understand your risk — and discuss screening options with you.

For people at average risk of colon cancer, experts generally suggest one or more of these tests:*

High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT). For this test, you use a kit —at home — to take a small stool sample. The kit is mailed to a lab where it’s tested for blood, a possible sign of cancer. If the results are positive, you’ll need a colonoscopy.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy. While you’re sedated, a small, lighted tube is inserted into your rectum. A doctor looks for growths in the rectum and lower part of your colon. If your doctor spots anything unusual, the next step is a colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy. This is similar to a sigmoidoscopy. But with this test, a doctor can examine your entire colon — and remove most polyps found during the test.

Talking with your doctor is the best way to know which test to have — and how often. It’s a conversation that may add years to your life.

What to do next

Talk with your doctor about screening for colorectal cancer. Here’s a list of questions to ask. Take it with you to your next visit. 

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