Colorectal Cancer Screening

ExitCare ImageColorectal cancer screening is done to detect early disease. Colorectal refers to the colon and rectum. The colon and rectum are located at the end of the large intestine (digestive system), and carry your bowel movements out of the body. Screening may be done even if you are not experiencing symptoms.

Colorectal cancer screening checks for:

  • Polyps. These are small growths in the lining of the colon that can turn cancerous.

  • Cancer that is already growing. Cancer is a cluster of abnormal cells that can cause problems in the body.


  • It is common for polyps to form in the lining of the colon, especially in older people. These polyps can be cancerous or become cancerous.

  • Caught early, colorectal cancer is treatable.

  • Cancer can be life threatening. Detecting or preventing cancer early can save your life and allow you to enjoy life longer.


  • Fecal occult blood testing. A stool sample is examined for blood in the laboratory.

  • Sigmoidoscopy. A sigmoidoscope is used to examine the rectum and lower colon. A sigmoidoscope is a flexible tube with a camera that is inserted through your anus to examine your lower rectum.

  • Colonoscopy. The longer colonoscope is used to examine the entire colon. A colonoscope is also a thin, flexible tube with a camera. This test examines the colon and rectum.

Other tests include:

  • Digital rectal exam.

  • Barium enema.

  • Stool DNA test.

  • Virtual colonoscopy is the use of computerized X-ray scan (computed tomography, CT) to take X-ray images of your colon.


Screening is recommended for all adults aged 50 to 75 years.

Screening is generally done every 5 to 10 years or more frequently if you have a family history or symptoms.

Screening is rarely recommended in adults aged 76 to 85 years. Screening is not recommended in adults aged 85 years and older.

Your caregiver may recommend screening at a younger age and more frequent screening if you have:

  • A history of colorectal cancer or polyps.

  • Family members with histories of colorectal cancer or polyps.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.

  • A type of hereditary colon cancer syndrome.

Talk with your caregiver about any symptoms, personal and family history.


It is important to discuss the following symptoms with your caregiver. These symptoms may be the result of other conditions and may be easily treated:

  • Rectal bleeding.

  • Blood in your stool.

  • Changes in bowel movements (hard or loose stools). These changes may last several weeks.

  • Abdominal cramping.

  • Feeling the pressure to have a bowel movement when there is no bowel movement.

  • Feeling tired or weak.

  • Unexplained weight loss.

  • Unexplained low red blood cell count. This may also be called iron deficiency anemia.


  • Follow up with your caregiver as directed.

  • Follow all instructions for preparation before your test as well as after.


Following healthy lifestyle habits each day can reduce your chance of getting colorectal cancer and many other types of cancer:

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fats, sugars and cholesterol.

  • Stay active. Try to exercise at least 4 to 6 times per week for 30 minutes.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your caregiver what a healthy weight range is for you.

  • Women should only drink 1 alcoholic drink per day. Men should only drink 2 alcoholic drinks per day.

  • Quit smoking.


  • You experience abdominal or rectal symptoms (see Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer).

  • Your gastrointestinal issues (constipation, diarrhea) do not go away as expected.

  • You have questions or concerns.


  • American Academy of Family Physicians

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • US Preventive Services Task Force

  • American Cancer Society


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.

Always follow up with your caregiver to find out the results of your tests. Not all test results may be available during your visit. If your test results are not back during the visit, make an appointment with your caregiver to find out the results. Do not assume everything is normal if you have not heard from your caregiver or the medical facility. It is important for you to follow up on all of your test results.