The Importance of Colon Cancer Screening

Dr. Sahar Zuberi
NOAH Family Physician
Venado Valley Health Center

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US. It almost always develops from precancerous polyps (or abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Such polyps can be present in the colon for years before invasive cancer develops. Screening can help identify these polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. You should begin screening at age 50, and then continue to get screened at regular intervals. Colorectal cancer screening tests may be covered by your health insurance policy without a deductible or co-pay.

Screening Method Frequency
FIT Every year
FOBT Every year
FIT DNA Every one or 3 years
CT Colonography Every 5 years
Flexible sigmoidoscopy Every 5 years
Flexible sigmoidoscopy + FIT Flex sig every 10 years + FIT every year
Colonoscopy Every 10 years

If you have a first degree relative with colon cancer, you should start screening at 40, or 10 years earlier then their diagnosis (whichever is earlier.) A first degree relative is defined as a parent, sibling, or child. Also, you may need to get tested earlier if you have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis,) or a genetic syndrome (familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome.) Screening is not recommended for adults aged 76 – 85, because the risks may outweigh the benefits. You should only consider this if you’ve never been screened before and are healthy enough to undergo treatment.

Think that you’re at an increased risk for colorectal cancer? You should talk to your doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for you, and how often to get tested.