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Norris Cotton Cancer Center
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Screening & Prevention

Why have a colorectal cancer screening?

The large intestine (also called the large bowel), consists of the colon and rectum, which is the final part of your digestive system. Cancer of the lining of the large intestine is called colorectal cancer.

Although colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in the United States, it is one of the few cancers that doctors can prevent.

Most colon cancers start out as small growths (polyps) which form on the lining of the large intestine. Over a period of five to ten years, some of these polyps can become cancers. During a colonoscopy (one type of colorectal cancer screening test) a doctor can find and remove polyps in the large intestine. This causes no pain. Finding and removing these polyps dramatically reduces the chances of cancer developing. About 30 percent of people who are screened for colorectal cancer are found to have polyps.

If colorectal cancer is found at an early stage, a person's chances of living longer than five years may be as great as 95%. If colorectal cancer is found at a late stage, a person may have only a 10% chance of living for five years. The earlier cancer is found, the better your chances of survival.

Because most polyps – and many colon cancers – have no symptoms, it's very important to have a colorectal cancer screening.

Who should have a colorectal cancer screening?

  • Anyone with a personal history of colon polyps
  • Anyone with a personal history of colon cancer
  • Anyone with a family history of colon cancer or polyps
  • Anyone who is at least 50 years old
  • Anyone with inflammatory bowel disease (a long-term disease of the intestines, diagnosed by a doctor)

How often should I have a colorectal cancer screening?

Doctors recommend that anyone who is at least 50 years old have one of the following:

Ways to prevent colorectal cancer

In addition to having regular screenings, there are other ways to help prevent colorectal cancer:

  • Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid smoking
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Keep to a regular exercise program (this can be as simple as taking a short walk three times a week)
  • Talk with your doctor about vitamins or medications that may help prevent colorectal cancer

Resources for Patients

Watch the colonoscopy prep video: "Colonoscopy Prep: Tips and Tricks" (15 minutes)

Watch: Screening for Colorectal CancerLength: 4 minutes

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