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Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. The third most common cancer in adults, it can be cured in up to 90% of people when caught early. Getting screened regularly can detect cancer in its early stages, when treatment is most effective.

There are several ways to screen for colorectal cancer: Colonoscopy and at-home screening tests. Talk to your primary care doctor to determine which type of test is right for you. We also recommend contacting your health insurance provider to learn about coverage information.

We’ll make it easy for you. Providence offers convenient screening locations across the Portland metropolitan area.

We look out for your health. If we find something that needs a second look, our team has all the expertise to support you through your care.

When should I get screened?

The  American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that men and women at average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening at age 45.

If you have a strong family or personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps, your doctor may recommend getting screened before age 45. Other risk factors may include having a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or receiving radiation therapy in the abdomen or pelvis.


A colonoscopy is a routine, outpatient procedure used to diagnose conditions in the lower gastrointestinal tract, including ulcers, polyps and cancer. It typically takes less than 30 minutes. If the screening detects polyps, your doctor will remove them during the procedure. The screening can also accurately diagnose cancer and help determine a plan for treatment. Early diagnosis dramatically improves survival rates.

If no polyps are found, you may not need another colonoscopy for about 10 years. If your doctor does find and remove polyps, you’ll likely need to get screened more often.

What can I expect during a colonoscopy? 

After you’ve scheduled your procedure, below are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Your doctor will ask that you prepare your bowels. This can take place up to three days before your procedure and will require you to change your diet and take medication to cleanse your colon. Doing this will help make sure your procedure yields accurate results.
  • You’ll need to arrange for a ride home. This is because you’ll be given sedatives to reduce any discomfort you may feel.

  • You will be given sedatives to help you feel relaxed and comfortable throughout the entire procedure.
  • Your doctor will carefully examine your colon. If they spot any polyps, they will remove them.
  • If your doctor notices any abnormalities, they may also take a tissue sample (biopsy) for further analysis.

  • When the procedure is finished you’ll be taken to a recovery room. Most patients are discharged within an hour.
  • After you’re driven home, take it easy, rest, drink plenty of water and eat when you feel like it. You may be a bit dehydrated. You’ll also be feeling the aftereffects of sedatives.
A colonoscopy is safe and routinely done diagnostic procedure. Read more about what to know before your colonoscopy.
At-home screening tests

Depending on your age and level of risk, your doctor may determine you’re eligible for an at-home screening method called a FIT (fecal immunochemical test). This test detects hidden blood in the stool. The testing kit includes the tools you’ll need to collect and mail samples of your stool to a lab.

If results are positive, your doctor will likely recommend additional testing such as a colonoscopy. If results come back negative, your doctor may ask you to schedule another screening test in the future.

Contact your primary care doctor to determine which type of test is right for you. We also recommend contacting your health insurance provider to learn about coverage information before scheduling your appointment.

Too often, myths and misconceptions about colonoscopies prevent people from getting life-saving screening and care. Learn how to separate the facts from fiction.

Fiction: I’m too young to be at risk for colorectal cancer.

Fact: Although your risk for developing colorectal cancer increases as you get older, more adults younger than 50 are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Family history of colorectal polyps or cancer
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption

Fiction: I don’t have any symptoms of colorectal cancer, so I don’t need to get screened.

Fact: Even if you don’t have symptoms, you should still follow the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for screening at age 45, or before age 45 for those at increased risk. During the early stages of cancer, symptoms are not always easy to recognize. That’s why early detection is crucial as it allows for the most effective treatment.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Rectal bleeding (the most common symptom)
  • Pain when using the bathroom
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Unexplained new constipation or other changes in bowel habits

Talk to your primary care provider for more information on colorectal cancer screenings. Make sure they’re aware of any family history of colorectal cancer. And if it's time for your first (or next) colonoscopy, don't put it off. It could save your life.

One of the things that makes cancer so frightening is that its causes are so often unknown or out of our control. With colorectal cancer, though, much is within our control. By some estimates, this form of cancer is 90 percent preventable.

So why is it still the second-leading cause of cancer deaths? One reason could be that people just aren't aware that there are steps they can take to prevent it. Let's change that.

The scientific evidence points to four actions you can take that will greatly reduce your risk of developing this deadly cancer:

  • Take 30 minutes a day to exercise
  • Take a closer look at what you eat
  • Take another shot at quitting smoking
  • Take your doctor's advice about screenings

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Additional information
Colorectal cancer screening saves lives

Get the facts, risk factors and screening options. Download an infographic to learn more.

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The Providence Digestive Health Institute offers leading treatment for conditions and diseases of the digestive tract in Oregon. We are committed to making a positive difference in every life we touch. Our patients are at the center of everything we do.