Why Should I Get Tested for Colon Cancer?

Why Should I Get Tested for Colon Cancer?

Do you believe in the power of prevention? If you’re 45 years of age or older, one of those reasons is colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer.

Besides skin cancer, colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer for both men and women in the U.S. It is the second leading cause of cancer death. American Indian and Alaska Native people have the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the U.S., followed by African-American men and women, says the American Cancer Society. leaving site icon

If you are one of the millions of Americans who choose to wait until they are sick to visit a doctor, there is a reason to make regular check-ups a habit.

“I feel fine.”

If you haven’t visited a doctor because you feel healthy, it’s still important to see your doctor before you feel unwell. Like many other forms of cancer, colon cancer often has no symptoms in its early stage. When caught early, though, there’s a 90% survival rate.

Unfortunately, one in four adults in the U.S. is not getting screened, says the Center for Disease Control and Preventionleaving site icon If you're among those who haven't yet been screened, talk to your doctor about what tests may be right for you. This is especially true if you are 45 or older or have one of these risk factors:

Risk factors for Colon Cancer

  • Ethnicity: People who are of Ashkenazi Jewish, African-American, Alaska Native or American Indian descent have a greater risk.
  • Personal or family history of certain health conditions: Inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, colon polyps, familial adenomatous polyposis, or Lynch syndrome can boost your risk.
  • Diet: Eating a lot of red and processed meats and few fruits and vegetables can raise your risk for colon cancer.
  • Lifestyle: Obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and heavy alcohol use can elevate your risk for colon cancer.

“I’m worried about getting a colonoscopy.”

Some people avoid seeing a doctor because they think screenings are unpleasant. If you are one of them, know that there are many ways to screen for colon cancer. There’s even one you can do at home. Talk with your doctor about your all your choices.

Before your visit, consider these colon cancer tests recommended by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Colonoscopy: With this direct exam of the colon and rectum, your doctor can biopsy and remove polyps — small growths that often cause colon cancer.
  • Fecal Occult Blood Test/Fecal Immunochemical Test: For this test, your doctor will give you an at-home kit, which you can do by yourself.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This fairly quick, safe test can be done at your primary care physician’s office and does not need sedation.

Now that you know more, it’s time to call your doctor and schedule a visit. Your doctor can help you decide which type of screening is best for you. There’s no better time than now.

Sources: Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancerleaving site icon Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors, leaving site icon American Cancer Society, 2024; Use of Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023

Originally published: 4/6/2016, Revised 2020, 2022, 2024