Colon (colorectal) Cancer Screening

Colon cancer usually develops from abnormal growths, known as polyps, in the colon or rectum. Colon cancer tests can find polyps, and remove them before they turn into cancer. Polyps are common and are usually harmless. However, because most colon cancer begins as a polyp, removing polyps early is a good way to prevent cancer. Screening tests can also find colon cancer early, when it is easier to treat.

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Early on, colon cancer may not cause symptoms. A person could have colon or rectal 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 doctor. These symptoms may be caused by something else, but the only way to know for sure is to see your doctor.

Who should be screened for colon cancer?

All men and women ages 50 and older should talk to their doctor about being tested. Regular testing increases the chance of stopping colon cancer before it starts or finding it early when treatment may be most effective.

If you or someone in your family has had colon cancer or certain other conditions, you may need to start testing earlier than age 50.

Talk to your doctor about when you should start getting tested.

What are the screening tests for colon cancer?

There are many different tests that screen for colon cancer. Each test can be used alone. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends the following tests for colon 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 doctor. You return the test to your doctor 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 doctor 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
    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 doctor about your screening options to find the test best for you. For more information about these and other cancer screening tests, visit the CDC website.

Where can I go for FREE colon cancer screening?

Free colon cancer screening tests are 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 colon cancer if I don't have insurance?

Women and men in need of treatment for colon 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.