What to know about colorectal cancer screenings

You may be eligible for at-home screening

Wondering who should be screened for colorectal cancer? The simple answer is that at some point almost everyone will need to be screened.

Colorectal cancer screening is recommended for adults age 50 to 75.1 But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than half of adults age 50-54 are up-to-date with these screenings.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to check that you’re up to date on screenings or schedule a new one.

Why get screened?

Screening helps prevent colorectal cancer. It may help find pre-cancerous polyps so they may be removed. It also may help find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.

In fact, the American Gastroenterological Association estimates that more than one-third of colorectal cancer deaths may be avoided with regular screening.

How to get screened

There are several ways to get screened for colorectal cancer, including at-home tests. Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each option, and to determine which test is right for you.2

  • Colonoscopy: While the patient is sedated, a doctor uses a long, lighted tube to check inside the rectum and colon for growths, abnormal tissue or cancer.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A doctor uses a short, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
  • Stool tests: Using an at-home kit, a stool sample is obtained and mailed to a doctor or lab for testing. Different types of tests may check for blood, which can be a sign of cancer, or for genetic changes found in cancer and precancer cells. If blood or altered DNA is found, a colonoscopy is needed.

Other prevention tips

Already up to date on your screening, or have your next one on the books? Great! According to UnitedHealthcare, you may also lower your colorectal cancer risk with these steps:

  • Quit smoking: Smokers are more likely to develop cancer than non-smokers. But after just three smoke-free years, the risk drops to that of a nonsmoker.
  • Exercise: 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity may help control diabetes and obesity, two risk factors for colorectal cancer.3
  • Eat healthy foods: Make sure your diet includes plenty of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and avoid excess saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar. Getting enough calcium may also reduce your risk for colorectal cancer.

What to do next

Talk with your doctor to determine which colorectal screening is right for you, or to schedule an appointment.

And here’s a list of questions about colorectal cancer screening to bring to your next visit.


  1. Individual risk factors such as ethnicity, lifestyle and family history are considered in determining when to start or continue screenings.
  2. Check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered.
  3. Check with your doctor regarding a new exercise routine.