Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colorectal cancer usually develops from abnormal growths, known as polyps, in the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer screening tests can find polyps, and remove them before they turn into cancer. Polyps are common and are usually harmless. However, because most colorectal cancer begins as a polyp, removing polyps early is a good way to prevent cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when it is easiest to treat.
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Early on, colorectal cancer may not cause symptoms. A person could have colorectal cancer and not know it. If there are symptoms, they can include:
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movements)
- Aches, pains or cramps in your stomach that do not go away
- Change in bowel movement habits, either constipation or diarrhea
- Losing weight and you don't know why
If you have any of these symptoms you should talk to your health care provider. These symptoms may be caused by something else; the only way to know for sure is to see your health care provider.
Who should be screened for colorectal cancer?
To increase the chances of stopping colorectal cancer before it starts or finding it early, men and women should get screened regularly. Most women and men should begin colorectal cancer screening at age 50. Some people with a family or personal history of colorectal cancer or certain other conditions need to start screening earlier. Talk to your health care provider about when you should start getting screened.
What are the screening tests for colorectal cancer?
There are many different tests that screen for colorectal cancer. Each test can be used alone. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends the following tests for colorectal cancer screening:
- High-Sensitivity Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
The FOBT and FIT are stool tests done at home with a test kit you get from your health care provider. You return the test to your health care provider or a lab where they will check your stool sample for blood. This test should be done once a year.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
Flexible sigmoidoscopy allows your health care provider to check the rectum and lower part of the colon for polyps and cancer using a thin, flexible, lighted tube. This test should be done once every 5 years, or more often if recommended by your doctor.
Colonoscopy is like the flexible sigmoidoscopy except the doctor uses a longer, thin flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the entire colon and rectum. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. This test should be done once every 10 years, or more often if recommended by your doctor.
Talk to your health care provider about your screening options to find the test best for you. For more information about these and other colorectal cancer screening tests, visit the CDC website.
Where can I go for FREE colorectal cancer screening?
Free colorectal cancer screening is available for eligible, uninsured and underinsured New York residents through the New York State Cancer Services Program. To get more information or to be connected to a Cancer Services Program near you, please call 1-866-442-CANCER or visit the Cancer Services Program website.
Can I get treatment for colorectal cancer if I don't have insurance?
Women and men in need of treatment for colorectal cancer may be eligible for coverage through the New York State Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program (NYS MCTP). Coverage lasts for the entire time you are being treated and includes medications.
To learn if you are eligible for this program or to get more information, visit the NYS MCTP website.