Colorectal Cancer

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can colorectal cancer be prevented?

Even though we don't know the exact cause of most colorectal cancers, it is possible to prevent many of them.


Screening is the process of looking for cancer or pre-cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease. Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer.

From the time the first abnormal cells start to grow into polyps, it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for them to develop into colorectal cancer. Regular screening can, in many cases, prevent colorectal cancer altogether. This is because most polyps can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also result in finding colorectal cancer early, when it is highly curable.

For more information about screening, including the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of colorectal cancer, see our document Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

Genetic testing, screening, and treatment for those with a strong family history

If you have a strong family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, you should talk with your doctor about it. Cancer in close (first-degree) relatives such as parents, brothers, and sisters is most concerning, but cancer in more distant relatives can also be important. You might benefit from genetic counseling to review your family medical tree to see how likely it is that you have a family cancer syndrome. The counselor can also help you decide if gene testing is right for you. People who have an abnormal gene can take steps to prevent colon cancer, such as getting screened at an early age or even having surgery.

More information about testing for family cancer syndromes linked to colorectal cancer can be found in our document Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

Last Medical Review: 10/15/2014
Last Revised: 08/13/2015