Why you should talk to your doctor about a colon cancer screening

No one wants to have to think about a colon exam and you may even avoid having to get one. If you have no symptoms, you might think you are in the clear. However, getting a screening can alert you to any potential health concerns and is the best way to protect yourself against a serious illness like colon cancer.

What you might not know is that not only can a screening detect colon cancer (cancer that starts in the colon) but it can also test for rectal cancer (cancer that begins in the rectum). Colorectal cancer, or cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum, is the fourth most common type of cancer in both men and women.1 According to the National Cancer Institute, below are some factors that may increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • Your age. This is the most significant risk factor. You can get colorectal cancer at any age; however, if you are over age 50 you are at a higher risk.
  • Your family history. If your parents or siblings had colorectal cancer, you have a higher risk of developing it yourself.
  • Your medical history. Individuals with a history of inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis, who have had colorectal cancer before, have a history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or cancer of the uterus are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.   
  • Your diet. Diets heavy in fat (particularly animal fat) and low in calcium, fiber, and folate, can put you at a greater risk of colorectal cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health (NIH). In addition, the NIH suggests that people who smoke may be at a higher risk.

If you are age 50 to 75, it is recommended that you have a colorectal cancer screening every five years. However, if you think you may be at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor to see if you should get a screening before you turn 50. Don’t worry; a colonoscopy is not the only test to detect colorectal cancer. There are several other tests that can be done. Your doctor can help determine which test is appropriate for you.

Talk with your doctor to see when you should schedule a colorectal cancer screening. Screenings for colorectal cancer, along with healthy lifestyle choices, are two ways you can lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

1. National Cancer Institute, “Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps,” accessed March 24, 2014, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/colorectal-screening.


American Cancer Society, “Frequently Asked Questions about Colonoscopy and Sigmoidoscopy,” accessed February 24, 2014, http://www.cancer.org/healthy/findcancerearly/examandtestdescriptions/faq-colonoscopy-and-sigmoidoscopy.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Colorectal (Colon) Cancer,” accessed February 24, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/basic_info/screening/.

National Cancer Institute, “Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps,” accessed February 24, 2014, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/colorectal-screening.

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