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Colorectal Cancer: Screening Saves Live


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Why is screening for colorectal cancer important?

Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer and the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Screening means checking for health problems before they cause symptoms. Colorectal cancer screening is used to detect cancer, precancerous polyps, or other abnormal conditions.  If screening detects an abnormality, diagnosis and treatment can occur promptly. As many as 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone age 50 and older were screened regularly.

Some racial/ethnic groups experience higher rates of colorectal cancer than other groups so it is important for everyone to be screened. For example, African American males and females have the highest incidence and mortality rates among other racial/ethnic groups.

When should I get screened for colorectal cancer?

Everyone over age 50 should talk with their healthcare provider about checking for colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is more likely to occur, as people get older. More than 90 percent of people with this disease are diagnosed after age 50.  If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, your healthcare provider may advise you to get screened before age 50. 

What types of screening tests check the colon and rectum for cancer?

Talk with your healthcare provider about the screening options that are right for you.

  • Colonoscopy is a test that uses a long, thin-lighted tube to see the entire colon. It is the method preferred by most physicians, because it is the only test that can detect precancerous growths inside the colon and also remove them in most instances.
  • Sigmoidoscopy is similar to colonoscopy, but this test uses a shorter, lighted tube to look inside the rectum and the lower part of the colon.
  • The fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is used to detect hidden blood in the stool.  Blood in the stool could be a warning sign of cancer. If your physician finds blood in your stool, the next step is usually a colonoscopy
  • A double contrast barium enema is diagnostic test that uses a series of x-rays to find cancerous or precancerous growths in your colon. If such growths are found, you may be referred for a colonoscopy to biopsy or remove the growth

Where can I get screened for colorectal cancer?

Ask your healthcare provider or local health clinic for the screening site nearest you.

Stanford Hospital patients can contact the Stanford Referral Center, by calling 1-800-756-9000, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or sending an email to Referrals [referral].

Where can I find more information about colorectal cancer?

Stanford Resources

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Resources

  • National Cancer Institute at
  • NCI Colorectal Cancer Page
  • NCI Cancer Information Service (CIS): Trained information specialists can answer your questions about cancer and provide print and electronic NCI publications. Service is available in English and Spanish on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

Call toll free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or 1-800-332-8615 (TTY for the hearing and speech impaired). Callers also have the option of listening to recorded information about cancer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Live Help To get live, online assistance from an NCI Information Specialist, visit LiveHelp.

The Stanford Cancer Center is a partner of the American Cancer Society Colon Cancer Free Zone, a community-based campaign that seeks to increases public awareness about colon cancer and the importance of getting screened as well as to lower the incidence of colon cancer in the community. Learn more at    

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