Please note that some translations using Google Translate may not be accurately represented and downloaded documents cannot be translated. Dana-Farber assumes no liability for inaccuracies that may result from using this third-party tool, which is for website translation and not clinical interactions. You may request a live medical interpreter for a discussion about your care.
Cancer of the colon and rectum is the third most common type of cancer in the United States. The risk for men and women to develop colon cancer or rectal cancer is about 5-6 percent over a lifetime.
Several large studies have shown that a history of colon or rectal cancer in a 1st degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) increases an individual's chance of developing cancer of the colon or rectum. Family history of pre-cancerous colorectal
polyps (mushroom-like growths) also increases one’s risk.
The American Cancer Society, the American Gastroenterological Association, and the National Cancer Institute all recommend men and women begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 50. People with family history should consider screening at a younger
age. The first step in prevention starts with a healthy lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet, avoiding excessive alcohol and
tobacco use, and exercising are all good ways to reduce cancer risks.
An important way to prevent cancer of the colon or rectum is by getting the appropriate screening tests. Removal of pre-cancerous polyps detected through screening can prevent the development of cancer altogether. Several tests and procedures are used
to screen for colorectal cancer. For those at average risk, screening is recommended to begin at age 50. Screening options include: yearly fecal occult blood test and flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, colonoscopy every 10 years, or double contrast
Barium enema every five years.
Fecal occult blood test screening consists of examining two or three consecutive stools for microscopic blood findings. Patients with a positive test on any specimen should be followed up with a colonoscopy.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure in which the doctor looks inside the rectum and the lower portion of the colon (sigmoid colon) through a flexible, lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope. The doctor may collect samples of tissues or cells for closer
examination and remove some polyps within view. Fecal occult blood test and sigmoidoscopy may be used as a combined screening tool, with fecal occult blood test being performed yearly combined with flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
A colonoscopy allows inspection and tissue sampling of the rectum and large intestine by inserting a flexible tube with an attached camera throughout the rectum. It allows for greater visualization of the large bowel (upper colon) than the sigmoidoscopy,
thereby permitting the detection and removal of polyps and biopsy of cancer throughout the colon. It is considered to be the most accurate screening test for polyps and cancer.
The double-contrast Barium enema consists of a series of x-rays of the colon and rectum. The x-rays are taken after the patient is given an enema, followed by an injection of air. The barium outlines the intestines so that abnormal growths can be seen.
Even stronger family histories of colon cancer may suggest an inherited colon cancer syndrome. People with a family history of colorectal cancer in several close relatives and across generations, especially if these cancers occur at a young age, may benefit
from genetic counseling and genetic testing for the inherited syndromes of colon cancer. You can learn more about hereditary colorectal cancer issues through our Colorectal Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic.
To schedule an appointment, call the clinic coordinator at 617-632-2178.
Appointments and Second Opinions
For adults: 877-442-3324For children: 888-733-4662