Genomics and Health
Colorectal Cancer Awareness
Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer cause of death in the United States. This type of cancer (also known as colon cancer) occurs in the colon or in the rectum. A person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer increases as he or she gets older. This cancer occurs most often in people age 50 and above.
Screening for prevention and early detectionScreening tests can help prevent colorectal cancer by finding polyps, abnormal growths in the colon or rectum, so that they can be removed before they become cancerous. Screening also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best. For most people, screening for colorectal cancer should begin at age 50 and continue regularly until age 75, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). [PDF 242.08]
Family history is an important risk factorMost colorectal cancer is caused by the complex interaction of many genes and behavioral risk factors, such as being overweight and physically inactive. In addition, specific gene abnormalities (mutations) are known to contribute to the development of some rare types of hereditary colorectal cancer.* These types of colorectal cancer typically occur at an earlier age than other types that are not considered hereditary.
People with a family history of colorectal cancer are at an increased risk of developing this disease. The USPSTF found that for people with first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) who developed cancer at a younger age, or people with multiple affected first-degree relatives, starting screening at younger ages may be reasonable. Health care providers can help patients evaluate their family histories to determine which screening tests are best for them. *Familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer).
Read a brief CDC summary of the EGAPP recommendation statement on genetic testing for Lynch syndrome.
The information on this page was compiled as a collaborative effort by CDC's Office of Public Health Genomics and the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Please direct any specific questions or inquires about colorectal cancer to the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness MonthAmong cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, more than 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 people die from it.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk?The risk of getting colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90% of cases occur in people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, but many people are not being screened according to national guidelines.
If you're 50 years old or older, getting a screening test for colorectal cancer could save your life. Here's how—
- Colorectal cancer screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented.
- Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment often leads to a cure.
What Are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don't always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. Symptoms for colorectal cancer may include—
- Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).
- Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away.
- Losing weight and you don't know why.
When Should You Begin to Get Screened?You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then keep getting screened regularly. Some people have a higher risk because they have inflammatory bowel disease, a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or genetic syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (also known as Lynch syndrome). If you are 50 years old or older, or think you may have a higher risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for colorectal cancer for all people until they turn 75 years old, and for some people when they are older than 75. If you are in this age group, ask your doctor if you should be screened.
What Are the Screening Tests for Colorectal Cancer?Several tests are available to screen for colorectal cancer. Some are used alone; others are used in combination with each other. Talk with your doctor about which test or tests are best for you. The USPSTF recommends these tests—
- Colonoscopy (every 10 years).
- High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), also known as a stool test (every year).
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years) with high-sensitivity FOBT (every 3 years).
How Can I Pay for Screening Tests?Many insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening. Check with your plan to find out which tests are covered for you. To find out about Medicare coverage, call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
CDC's Colorectal Cancer Control Program provides access to colorectal cancer screening to low-income men and women who are 50–64 years old and are underinsured or uninsured in 25 states and four tribes.
Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action CampaignCDC's Screen for Life: National Colorectal Cancer Action Campaign informs men and women who are 50 years old or older about the importance of having regular colorectal cancer screening tests.
In new Screen for Life television public service announcements (PSAs), diverse men and women respond to the question, "Why should I get screened for colorectal cancer?" They voice common misconceptions about who should be screened, and an off-screen expert explains the facts and why screening is important. The clear take-away message is that screening for colorectal cancer saves lives.
Similarly, new English and Spanish print PSAs and posters also reveal common misconceptions about screening, while setting the record straight on who should be screened and how colorectal cancer can be prevented.
The "No Excuses" PSAs and print materials are the latest additions to a rich suite of Screen for Life resources for patients and health professionals. Print materials, including fact sheets, brochures, and posters, can be viewed, printed, and ordered online. Television and radio public service announcements can be viewed and heard online.
- Colorectal (Colon) Cancer
- Cáncer colorrectal
- Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- Screen for Life Basic Facts on Screening [PDF - 321KB] (fact sheet)
- Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Lives [PDF - 2.6MB] (brochure)
- Genetic Testing for Lynch Syndrome
- Listen to or download a podcast
- Send a Health-e-Card
- Watch a video