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Is it Time? Colon Cancer Screening

Many testing options are available

A Veteran reading about colon cancer screenings Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Many adults have missed regular screenings due to the pandemic. One disease that regular screenings can catch early is colorectal cancer or colon cancer. If you’re between 45 and 75 years and at average risk, getting screened regularly can save your life. If you’re between 76 and 85, talk with your provider about your overall health and prior screening history.  Screening is for average risk individuals who don't have signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer. If you're at increased risk or have symptoms, contact your provider to determine the next best steps.

When it’s your time to get screened, you may want to know how screenings work or which options are available to you. It’s easy to ask friends about their experiences or note commercials about home testing kits. However, your best bet is to talk to your provider about getting screened. The VA recommends the following common options:

Stool Tests

  • VA recommends a “FIT FIRST” strategy to help Veterans catch up with screenings they may have missed during the pandemic. Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) uses antibodies to detect blood in the stool. It’s done once a year. You’ll receive a test kit that can be done in the comfort of your home, where you’ll obtain a sample as directed and return the kit as instructed.  (If positive, you would need a colonoscopy)

  • Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) uses the chemical guaiac to detect blood in the stool. It’s done once a year. You’ll receive a test kit from your doctor. You’ll obtain a small amount of stool at home and return the test kit as instructed. (If positive, you would need to have a colonoscopy).

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

During a flexible sigmoidoscopy exam, your provider will put a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum—the provider checks for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon. Based on your provider's recommendation, it should be done every five years or every ten years with a FIT.


A colonoscopy is similar to a flexible sigmoidoscopy. The provider uses a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. Your provider can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Colonoscopies are used as a follow-up test if anything unusual is found during one of the other screening tests. It should be done every ten years (for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer).

It would be best if you talked to your doctor. You can call your VA health care provider or use Secure Messaging to discuss your test and learn how often you might need to be tested.

Keep in mind that which test your provider chooses for you depends on:

  • Your preferences.

  • Your medical condition.

  • The likelihood that you will get the test.

  • The resources are available for testing and follow-up.

Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

Do you know if you have a family history of colon cancer?

Read More

Five Questions about Checking for Colon Cancer

Colorectal Cancer Screening (Veterans Health Library)

Colonoscopy (Veterans Health Library)

Updated March 23, 2021