Skip to main content

Colorectal Cancer Screenings

It’s important not to put off getting preventive screenings. Skipping them means you may miss a chance to catch and treat problems early. There is no cost for a colorectal cancer screening, and it could save your life.
Colorectal cancer usually begins as a polyp, an abnormal growth in the tissue or lining of the colon (large intestine) or rectum (the bottom part of the colon). This type of cancer can be prevented if caught early with regular testing. Polyps can be removed before they become cancerous.

Your doctor can discuss several different screening options with you. Each screening has advantages and disadvantages; however, no one screening is better than another. With your doctor’s advice, choose the best kind of screening for you.

Colorectal Cancer FAQ

Expand All Collapse All

How many people get colorectal cancer?

About 134,000 are diagnosed each year.

How does colorectal cancer start?

Colorectal cancer typically begins as a polyp. Polyps are not always cancer and are common in people older than age 50.

Screening FAQ

Expand All Collapse All

How many types of colorectal cancer screenings are there?

Three: fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy.

What does each type of screening involve?

  • Fecal occult blood test: You do not need sedation to have this test. You simply collect a stool sample (usually at home) and have it tested for the presence of blood. Small amounts of blood may not be visible. If the test finds blood, a colonoscopy may be necessary.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: You will most likely not be sedated before a sigmoidoscopy. This screening examines the rectum and sigmoid section of the colon. These are lower parts of the colon. Any polyps found are removed for analysis. If the test finds anything abnormal, a colonoscopy may be necessary to check for growths in the upper colon.
  • Colonoscopy: Before a colonoscopy, you will be sedated. This screening examines the rectum and entire colon. If any polyps are found, they are removed for analysis.

How often do I need to get a colorectal cancer screening?

  • Fecal occult blood test: Yearly
  • Sigmoidoscopy: Every 5 years (including a possible yearly stool test) if no prior personal or family history
  • Colonoscopy: Every 10 years if no personal or family history of colorectal cancer

How much does a colorectal cancer screening cost?

All preventive screenings cost nothing for UPMC Health Plan members.

How to prepare for a screening

First, discuss with your doctor which type of screening is right for you. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions on preparing for the screening you choose. You may worry about what the test may find. Remember: Even if the test finds an abnormality, it may not be cancer. Also, finding problems early may save your life. Any way you think about it, you made the right choice by having the screening. Discuss any concerns with your doctor.

Call your doctor today and schedule your screening.

Sources: National Cancer Institute, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

UPMC Health Plan: Screening with Meaning.