According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for men and women in the United States.

Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the country, but it doesn’t have to be.

If everybody aged 50 or older had regular screening tests, as many as 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Screening can find precancerous polyps – abnormal growths in the colon or rectum – so that they can be removed before turning into cancer.

Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancer is found early and treated are still alive five years later.

If you are 50 or older or think you may be at higher than average risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about getting screened.

Risk factors

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with advancing age. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people aged 50 or older.  Other risk factors include having:

• Inflammatory bowel disease

• A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps

• A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis  or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Lifestyle factors that may contribute to increased risk of colorectal cancer include:

• Lack of regular physical activity

• Not enough fruit and vegetables in the diet

• Low-fiber and high-fat diet

• Overweight and obesity

• Alcohol consumption

• Tobacco use

 Prevention

At least 6 out of every 10 deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were screened routinely.

Precancerous polyps can be present in the colon for years before invasive cancer develops. They may not cause any symptoms.

Colorectal cancer screening can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. In this way, colorectal cancer is prevented.

Screening can also find colorectal cancer early, when there is a greater chance that treatment will be most effective and lead to a cure.