Colon Cancer Risks and Prevention

Colon Cancer is Treatable, Beatable and Curable. Early Detection is Key


Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the US and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. Colorectal cancer initiates in either the colon or the rectum, often in early forms of growths called polyps. 


Risk Factors

Risk factors for colorectal cancers include: lifestyle behaviors such as not being physically active, smoking, drinking alcohol and a diet with lots of red or processed meats and not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Additional risk factors include: excess body weight, age, personal or family history of colorectal cancer, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, and having a confirmed/suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome. A person’s race and ethnicity can also be a risk factor as African Americans and people of Ashkenazi Jewish decent are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer.



The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women start regular screening at age 45. Those at an increased risk (having a personal history of colorectal cancer, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, or radiation treatment to the abdomen or pelvic area, having a family history of colorectal cancer, or having a confirmed/suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome) may be advised to start screening earlier. People in good health should continue colorectal cancer screening through the age of 75. For people ages 76 – 85, screening for colorectal cancer should be a decision made by the individual and their health care provider. After 85 years of age, a colorectal cancer screening is no longer recommended.

Not all colorectal cancers can be prevented, but early detection is the key for best outcomes. When caught early polyps can be removed before they have the opportunity to become cancer.

Colon cancer screening can be done either with a test that looks for signs of cancer in a person’s stool or through a visual exam that looks at the colon and rectum.

A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard of colorectal cancer screening. This test is performed at a hospital or surgical center and involves patient sedation. A narrow, lighted tube is used to look inside the rectum and colon. The healthcare provider looks for polyps that could turn into cancer. A colonoscopy procedure allows for polyps to be removed from the body and tested for cancer, making it the best screening tool. If polyps are found, a colonoscopy is often repeated in 3 to 5 years. A negative colonoscopy often means colorectal cancer screening will not need to be repeated for 10 years.

Stool-based tests are simple screening test kits that the patient takes and completes at home. These highly sensitive tests can detect blood in the stool, which can be the result of polyps. A stool-based test can help your healthcare provider tell whether there might be a problem that needs further investigation. If the test results are positive, blood has been detected in the stool and a colonoscopy will likely be recommended. Stool-based tests are recommended annually with negative results.


Stool-based Screening Tests

Simple tests can be performed in the comfort of your own home through stool-based screening kits. These kits come with everything you need to collect a stool sample. When the timing is right for you, take the kit into the bathroom. Within the kit is a sheet of tissue paper that must be placed inside the toilet bowl on top of the water. After a bowel movement, use the sample probe provided to scrape the surface of the stool so that the grooved portion of the probe is covered with a small amount feces. Then insert the probe into the bottle and snap the cap tightly. Place the tube in a zip-locked baggie then insert into the postage paid cardboard envelope and mail to the laboratory for analysis. Test results will be mailed back to you and/or your provider. Kits are available through your provider and are covered by most insurances.


Get Screened

Do your part and follow the recommendations and get screened. Colorectal cancer has a very high survival rate when caught early and the screening tools available allow for early detection. Please take the necessary steps and get tested for colorectal cancer.


Melanie Manary, MD, is a McLaren Medical Group Provider practicing at McLaren Northern Michigan Internal Medicine. She has experience with preventive care, diagnosis and management of chronic diseases, annual exams and testing, ensuring vaccines are up to date and coordinating with specialty care as needed. Dr. Manary completed medical school at Wayne State University and residency at Henry Ford Hospital.