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Colon Cancer Screening Guidelines

Screening Guidelines for Average-Risk Individuals


Updated: October 9, 2008

Adhering to colon cancer screening guidelines is one of the best ways to prevent colon cancer. In general, your risk of developing colon cancer increases as you age. If this is your only risk factor, you are considered "average risk." Other factors in your personal and family medical history may increase your risk. The simplest way for average-risk individuals to prevent colon cancer is to receive colon cancer screening starting at age 50 and continuing through age 75.

Why bother?

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of death due to cancer in the United States. People tend to avoid the doctor until they have symptoms. That's understandable, but it's a mistake. About 75% of people who develop colon cancer are 50 or older with no other identifiable risk factors. In fact, someone is diagnosed every four minutes and someone dies from the disease about every nine minutes. But it doesn't have to be that way. Getting a colonoscopy can reduce the average person's risk of dying from colon cancer by 90% and when diagnosed early, the majority of colon cancers are completely curable.

What are your options?

Most health plans (including Medicare) cover colon cancer screening and help is available for the uninsured. In October 2008, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force updated its colon cancer screening guidelines. The Task Force now recommends three options:

  • a colonoscopy once every ten years,
  • a high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) each year, or
  • a sigmoidoscopy every five years with fecal occult blood testing in between.

The Task Force recommends against routine colon cancer screening in adults older than 75 because the benefits don't tend to outweight the risks.

What's holding you back?

Common reasons for avoiding screening include being unaware you're due, fear of the procedure or prep, and embarrassment. If you've never been screened, what's your main reason? (Just click on an answer to vote.)
  1. I'm younger than 50.
  2. I'm 50 or older, but don't think screening is necessary.
  3. I'm waiting for the camera pill.
  4. I'm too busy.
  5. I don't like the prep required.
  6. It's too embarrassing.
  7. I'm afraid it'll hurt.
  8. It's too expensive.
  9. I don't have anyone to drive me home.
  10. I can't take time off from work for the procedure and recovery.

See the results of the poll without voting.

Related Articles:


Disease Informaton: CRC Facts & Figures. Colon Cancer Alliance. 17 Jan. 2007 [http://www.ccalliance.org/about/disease/crcfacts.html].

Kaz, A. and Brentnall, T. "Genetic Testing for Colon Cancer." Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 3.12 (Dec. 2006): 670-679. 18 Jan. 2007.

Rex, Douglas. "Screening for Colon Cancer and Evaluation of Chemoprevention with Coxibs." Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 23.4 (Apr. 2002): S41-S50. Science Direct. 17 Jan. 2007.

"Several Methods Equally Effective for Colorectal Cancer Screening." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 7 Oct. 2008. Accessed 9 Oct. 2008 [http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/545066/?sc=dwhn].

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