Can Colorectal Polyps and Cancer Be Found Early?

Why is it important to find colorectal cancer early?

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 against colorectal cancer. 

It can take as many as 10 to 15 years for a polyp to develop into colorectal cancer. Regular screening can often prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also often find colorectal cancer early, when it is most likely to be curable.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death when numbers for both men and women are combined. The death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people per year) of colorectal cancer has been dropping for several decades. One reason for this is that colorectal polyps are now more often found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers.

When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 90%. But only about 4 out of 10 colorectal cancers are found at this early stage. When cancer has spread outside the colon or rectum, survival rates are lower.

Unfortunately, only a little more than half of people who should get tested for colorectal cancer get the tests that they should. This may be due to things like lack of public and health care provider awareness of screening options, costs, and health insurance coverage issues.

See Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests for more on the tests used to screen for colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society Recommendations for Colorectal Cancer Early Detection has our guidelines for using these tests to find colorectal cancer and polyps.


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: October 15, 2016 Last Revised: March 2, 2017

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