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The facts about colon cancer

GEHA | June 10, 2020

Colon cancer
Colonoscopies can reduce deaths from colorectal cancer by between 60% and 70%.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer diagnosed in both men and women. It’s also the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States.

The disease causes abnormal cells in the colon or rectum to divide uncontrollably, ultimately forming a malignant tumor. The estimated five-year survival rate for people with colon cancer is 65%, though that rate rises to approximately 90% when the cancer is found while still localized. About 39% of patients are diagnosed at this early stage.

The most reliable way to detect colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy.

More about colonoscopies

In this test, the rectum and entire colon are examined using a colonoscope. During the exam, any abnormal growths in the colon or rectum can be removed.

Studies suggest that colonoscopies reduce deaths from colorectal cancer by about 60% to 70%. People at average risk of colorectal cancer should get screened regularly beginning at age 50. As long as the test results are negative, experts recommend a colonoscopy every 10 years.

Are there symptoms?

Call your physician immediately if you experience any of these symptoms, including:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t completely empty
  • A persistent change in your bowel habits
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 50 and continuing until age 75. The decision to screen for colorectal cancer in adults aged 76 to 85 should be an individual one, taking into account the patient's overall health and prior screening history.

If you need a health care provider, GEHA can help you find an in-network resource in your area

"Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps." National Cancer Institute, 14 January 2020
“Colorectal Cancer Awareness.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 March 2019.