Health & Fitness

Older than 50? Get screened for colorectal cancer

Elke Shaw-Tulloch
Elke Shaw-Tulloch

Getting a colorectal cancer screening test could save your life or the life of someone you love.

Both men and women should be screened for colorectal cancer after the age of 50. People with a family history of colorectal cancer should talk to their health care providers about getting screened earlier.

There are several screening options available that can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. They include fecal occult blood testing (FOBT), which is a simple take-home option; sigmoidoscopy; and colonoscopy.

Many insurance plans and Medicare help pay for colorectal cancer screening tests. Check with your plan to find out which tests are covered.

FOBT (Stool Test): You can obtain an FOBT kit from your health care provider to use at home. A small amount of stool is collected. The kit is returned to your health care provider or to a lab where stool samples are checked for anything unusual. The FOBT is recommended once a year.

Sigmoidoscopy: This test in done in a medical setting. The doctor uses a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer in lower third of the colon. The sigmoidoscopy is recommended every five years.

Colonoscopy: This test is also done in a medical setting and is similar to sigmoidoscopy. The doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. A colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years. (Those with family histories of colon cancer may be asked to have a colonoscopy more frequently.)

Colorectal cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. A polyp is, simply put, a growth that shouldn’t be there. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

Screening tests also find colorectal cancer early, when the chance of being cured is higher than if the cancer is found when it is more advanced.

Many people who have polyps or colorectal cancer don’t have symptoms, especially at first.

If there are symptoms, they may include blood in the stool during a bowel movement, pains, aches, stomach cramps that don’t go away and/or unexpected weight loss. It’s important to let your health care provider know if you have any of these symptoms.

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in Idaho for men and women, even though it can be prevented or detected at an early stage.

In 2013, there were 604 new cases of colorectal cancer. In 2014, colorectal cancer was the cause of death for 232 Idahoans. If you are older than 50, please get screened and encourage your loved ones who have reached 50 to get screened, too.

For more information about cancer in Idaho visit or “like” the Idaho Comprehensive Cancer Control Program on Facebook.

Elke Shaw-Tulloch, master of health sciences, is the state health officer and Division of Public Health administrator with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Find out more about Department of Health and Welfare services at

What is the Idaho Comprehensive Cancer Control Program?

Comprehensive cancer control is a national initiative where communities and partner organizations pool resources to reduce the burden of cancer. Since 2005, the Idaho Comprehensive Cancer Control Program has worked to address cancer through prevention, early detection and survivorship activities.

The effort focuses on the prevention and early detection of breast, lung, colorectal, cervical and skin cancers. The Comprehensive Cancer Control Program supports activities in local communities through a partnership with the public health districts and local/regional health systems. These combined efforts help Idahoans to:

▪ Reduce cancer risk.

▪ Find cancers earlier.

▪ Improve treatments.

▪ Increase the number of people who survive cancer.

▪ Improve quality of life for cancer survivors.

Learn more at