What is colorectal cancer screening?
A screening test is used to look for a disease when a person doesn't have symptoms. (When a person has symptoms, diagnostic tests are used to find out the cause of the symptoms.)
Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the color or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.
Regular screening, beginning at age 50, is the key to preventing colorectal cancer. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults age 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. The Task Force recommends that adults age 76 to 85 ask their doctor if they should be screened.
The Task Force recommends several colorectal cancer screening strategies, including stool tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Learn more about these screening tests.
When should I begin to get screened?
You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then continue getting screened at regular intervals. However, you may need to be tested earlier than 50, or more often than other people, if:
- You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- You have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)
If you think you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about:
- When to begin screening
- Which test is right for you
- How often to get tested
Insurance and Medicare coverage
Most insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening for people who are 50 years old or older. Colorectal cancer screening tests may be covered by your health insurance policy without a deductible or co-pay. For more information about Medicare coverage, visit medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). TTY users should call 1 (800) 486-2048. Check with your insurance plan to find out what benefits are covered for colorectal cancer screening.
Content last updated February 8, 2021