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The ACS recommends that people at average risk* of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. This can be done either with a sensitive test that looks for signs of cancer in a person’s stool (a stool-based test), or with an exam that looks at the colon and rectum (a visual exam). These options are listed below.
People who are in good health and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years should continue regular colorectal cancer screening through the age of 75.
For people ages 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history.
People over 85 should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.
*For screening, people are considered to be at average risk if they do not have:
Several test options are available for colorectal cancer screening:
There are some differences between these tests to consider (see Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests), but the most important thing is to get screened, no matter which test you choose. Talk to your health care provider about which tests might be good options for you, and to your insurance provider about your coverage.
If a person chooses to be screened with a test other than colonoscopy, any abnormal test result should be followed up with a timely colonoscopy.
People at increased or high risk of colorectal cancer might need to start colorectal cancer screening before age 45, be screened more often, and/or get specific tests. This includes people with:
The American Cancer Society does not have screening guidelines specifically for people at increased or high risk of colorectal cancer. However, some other professional medical organizations, such as the US Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer (USMSTF), do put out such guidelines. These guidelines are complex and are best looked at along with your health care provider. In general, these guidelines put people into several groups (although the details depend on each person’s specific risk factors).
Screening recommendations for these people depend on who in the family had cancer and how old they were when it was diagnosed. Some people with a family history will be able to follow the recommendations for average risk adults, but others might need to get a colonoscopy (and not any other type of test) more often, and possibly starting before age 45.
Most of these people will need to get a colonoscopy again after 3 years, but some people might need to get one earlier (or later) than 3 years, depending on the type, size, and number of polyps.
Most of these people will need to start having colonoscopies regularly about one year after surgery to remove the cancer. Other procedures like MRI or proctoscopy with ultrasound might also be recommended for some people with rectal cancer, depending on the type of surgery they had.
Most of these people will need to start having colorectal screening (colonoscopy or stool based testing) at an earlier age (depending on how old they were when they got the radiation). Screening often begins 5 years after the radiation was given or at age 30, whichever comes last. These people might also need to be screened more often than normal (such as at least every 3 to 5 years).
These people generally need to get colonoscopies (not any other type of test) starting at least 8 years after they are diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. Follow-up colonoscopies should be done every 1 to 3 years, depending on the person’s risk factors for colorectal cancer and the findings on the previous colonoscopy.
These people generally need to have colonoscopy (not any of the other tests). Screening is often recommended to begin at a young age, possibly as early as the teenage years for some syndromes – and needs to be done much more frequently. Specifics depend on which genetic syndrome you have, and other factors.
If you’re at increased or high risk of colorectal cancer (or think you might be), talk to your health care provider to learn more. Your provider can suggest the best screening option for you, as well as determine what type of screening schedule you should follow, based on your individual risk.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
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Last Revised: November 17, 2020