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Colorectal Cancer Screening Exams

Cancer screening exams for colon cancer and rectal cancer find cancer at an early stage. When found early, the chances for successfully treating the disease are greatest.

Along with regular exams, practice awareness. This means you should be familiar with your body. That way you’ll notice changes, like bleeding or unusual bowel movements. Then, report them to your doctor without delay.

The screening recommendations below apply to most adults.

Age 50 or older

Follow ONE of the screening options below:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years.
  • Virtual colonoscopy (also called Computed Tomographic Colonography) every five years. A colonoscopy will be performed if polyps are found.
  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) every year. This take-home test finds hidden blood in the stool. This may be a sign of cancer. The FOBT may not prevent colorectal cancer. If your doctor finds blood in your stool, you will need a colonoscopy to find out the cause.

The colonoscopy and virtual colonoscopy exams are both preferred by MD Anderson. These exams can find abnormal colon polyps before they turn into cancer.

Your doctor can help you decide if you should continue screening after age 75. MD Anderson doesn’t recommend screening for adults after age 85.

If you choose a virtual colonoscopy, check with your insurance provider before scheduling an exam. Not all insurance providers cover the cost of this exam.

Exams for adults at increased or high risk

Adults at increased or high risk are more likely to get colorectal cancer.

This doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get cancer. But, you may need to start screening at an earlier age, get additional tests or be tested more often.

You’re at increased or high risk if you fall under one or more of these groups:

  • Personal history of precancerous colon polyps (adenomas)
  • Family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps (adenomas). In other words, a family member had or has colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps.
  • Personal history of Familial Adenomatous Polyposis or suspected Familial Adenomatous Polyposis without yet having undergone genetic testing
  • Personal history of Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer or family history of Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)

Suspect you may be at increased or high risk? Print and share MD Anderson’s colorectal cancer screening chart with your doctor.

Exams for adults who’ve had colorectal cancer

If you’ve had colorectal cancer, you need a different plan to check for recurrence.

Print the survivorship screening chart below that best describes your cancer type. And share it with your doctor. Your doctor can use this chart to create a more tailored plan for you.

The screening plans on this page apply to adults expected to live for at least 10 years. They’re not for adults who have a health condition that may make it hard to diagnose or treat colorectal cancer.

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For Physicians

Use our flowchart to determine cancer screening recommendations for patients. 


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center