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Prevent Colorectal Cancer: The Best Test is the One That Gets Done

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (cancer of the colon and rectum). Among cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading killer in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be.

Screening is the number one way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. Despite its high incidence, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer and, if found early, one of the most treatable.

WHO GETS COLORECTAL CANCER?

Colorectal cancer occurs most often in people aged 50 years or older. The risk increases with age. Both men and women can get colorectal cancer. If you are 50 or older, talk to your doctor about getting screened.

WHO IS AT INCREASED RISK?

Your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if:

  • You or a close relative have had colorectal pre-cancerous growths (polyps) or colorectal cancer;
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis; or
  • You have a genetic syndrome or a family history of colorectal cancer.

If you think you may be at increased risk, speak with your doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for you, and how often you should be tested.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF COLORECTAL CANCER?

People who have polyps or colorectal cancer don’t always have symptoms, especially at first, but you should see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood in or on your stool (bowel movements);
  • Pains, aches, or cramps in your stomach that don’t go away; and
  • Unexplained weight loss.

These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor. The prospect of having a colonoscopy can seem daunting, but there are a variety of colorectal screening tests, including at-home stool tests, that provide options for everyone. Your doctor can help you decide which is the best option for you. It is recommended that colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 50.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 23 million people—that’s 1 in 3 adults—between 50 and 75 have not been tested appropriately. Because colorectal cancer is more likely to occur the older a person gets, screening is recommended for people between the ages of 50 and 75.

Screening tests help your doctor find polyps or cancers before you even have symptoms. During the procedure, these abnormal growths in the colon or rectum can be removed before they turn into cancer. Early detection and removal may allow you to avoid the development of cancer in the first place or to begin cancer treatment earlier, when it is most effective.

SCREENING COST OPTIONS

Preventive screening tests are covered under Medicare Part B. Please check https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/preventive-screening-services to see if you are eligible:

Colorectal cancer screening
Multi-target stool DNA tests
Screening barium enemas
Screening colonoscopies
Screening fecal occult blood tests
Screening flexible sigmoidoscopies

In some states, the CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program provides free or low-cost screenings to those who are eligible. To learn more, visit:
www.cdc.gov/cancer/crccp/contact.htm
or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636).