When Should I Be Screened For Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer in the United States. Every year, over 50,000 Americans die from this disease1. Like with many cancers, however, survival rates increase with early detection. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and JCHC wants you to know the ins-and-outs of colorectal screening, detection, and prevention.

Gloria LaFollette, DNP, ARNP, JCHC Clinics Provider, recommends screening for all of her patients who meet the criteria.

“The earlier we catch it, the easier it is to treat,” said LaFollette. “A colonoscopy is the ‘gold standard‘ for detection, and during the procedure we can even remove polyps as we see them.”

A colonoscopy, explained LaFollette, is the endoscopic examination of the patient’s entire colon using a flexible camera. A patient is sedated during the procedure, and the doctor analyzes the colon interior for irregularities, including polyps that could turn cancerous. Many smaller polyps can even be removed during the procedure.

Though a colonoscopy is the best test for screening, some patients may not want to go through procedure preparation, which includes diet restrictions for 1-3 days prior to the procedure and intake of a laxative to ensure the colon is clear of matter.

For these individuals, the most common recommendation is Cologuard. This is a prescription-only, noninvasive option that can be used at home, and is effective at identifying up to 92%2 of colon cancers. The patient can collect their fecal sample at home, and ship it off to the lab for testing. If the test detects normal results, it should be repeated every three years. If it returns a positive result, a colonoscopy should be performed to confirm the diagnosis.

Though a colonoscopy and Cologuard are the most popular screening options, there are other tools available, such as a fecal occult blood test or flex sigmoidoscopy. Which test is used depends on the patient’s preference, risk factors, and provider’s recommendation.

“For my patients, the most important thing is not the type of test performed, but that they get screened,” said LaFollette. “If there is a change in your bowel movement habits, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.”

The American Cancer Society recommends that people with average risk for colorectal cancer begin regular screening at age 45. Individuals with higher risk factors may need to start screening sooner or have more frequent screenings.

But how can someone reduce their overall risk for colorectal cancer? The answer starts with diet.

“The most important thing a person can do is eat more fiber, and consume 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The average American doesn’t even get 3 [servings per day], so I always talk about diet with my patients,” said LaFollette.

Other actions an individual can take to decrease their risk for cancer including maintaining a healthy body weight, regular exercise, not smoking, and limiting red meats/processed meats.

If you are over age 45 and haven’t been screened for colorectal cancer, don’t delay. Call JCHC Clinics at 641-472-4156 to schedule an appointment with your provider to review the options and find the screening solution that’s right for you.


1. https://gis.cdc.gov/Cancer/USCS/#/AtAGlance/

2. https://www.cologuard.com/start-screening-at-age-45