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October 2019

Take the Lead in Colorectal Screenings

Let’s face it: It’s nice to be in control. It feels better when we choose vegetables over fries. Or when we opt to take a walk instead of spending another hour on the couch. This positive attitude regarding choice also applies to health care.

Woman listening to her healthcare provider

According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, people who have a choice about what type of colorectal cancer screening they undergo are more likely to follow through with testing than those whose healthcare providers choose for them. Study participants who decided between two widely used screening tests—colonoscopy or fecal occult blood testing—were screened at higher rates than either group assigned to just one of these testing types. And the “choice” group was still the most vigilant in its testing after 3 years.

Screening options

It’s important to get colorectal cancer screenings. They largely prevent or find cancer when it’s most treatable. But they don’t work if you don’t get them. Consider getting one of the two screenings used in the study:

  • Fecal occult blood testing, a yearly screening that is done at home using a test kit. It involves taking a small stool sample and giving it to your provider. The test screens for blood in the stool, which can be a marker for cancer.

  • Colonoscopy screening is done by a healthcare provider using a lighted, flexible tube to look inside the rectum and colon. During the test, the provider can find and remove polyps—growths that can become cancerous. You should get this test at least every 10 years.

Take action today

Don’t wait for your provider to order a colorectal cancer screening. Take the lead in your health and talk about your options. Medical opinions vary about when to begin screening for colorectal cancer—age 45 or 50.  And you may need an earlier screening if you have a higher risk. Ask your healthcare provider when and how often you should get a screening, as well as the benefits and risks of various tests. 


Online Medical Reviewer: Gonnella, Joseph, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
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