Colon Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.

When Should I Begin to Get Screened?

You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then continue getting screened at regular intervals. However, you may need to be tested earlier than 50 or more often than other people if—

  • You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease.
  • You have genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.

Speak with your doctor about when you should begin screening and how often you should be tested.

What Is Colorectal Cancer Screening?

A screening test is used to look for a disease when a person is not experiencing any symptoms. Cancer screening tests, including those for colorectal cancer, are effective when they can detect disease early. Detecting disease early can lead to more effective treatment. In some cases, screening tests can detect something that shouldn’t be there, such as a polyp in the colon or rectum, before it has a chance to turn into cancer. Removing polyps in the colon and rectum prevents colorectal cancer from developing. (A diagnostic test differs from a screening test because it is used when a person has symptoms. A diagnostic test is used to find the cause of the symptoms.)

Free or Low-Cost Screening

CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) provides funding to 25 states and four tribes across the United States. The program supports population-based screening efforts and provides colorectal cancer screening services to low-income men and women aged 50–64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when no other insurance is available. In addition to colorectal cancer screening, the program sites also provide diagnostic follow-up.

If you live in one of the CRCCP-funded states, you may be eligible for free or low-cost colorectal cancer screening. If you are not eligible for the program, or live outside the areas in which the CRCCP operates, please call 1 (800) 4-CANCER or 1 (800) ACS-2345 to learn more about screening options in your community. You also may be able to find information about free or low-cost screening by calling your local department of health.