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Rectal Cancer Risks and Prevention

Rectal cancer screening can detect cancer before symptoms appear. If cancer screening indicates any areas of concern, diagnosis and treatment can begin promptly to prevent the cancer from spreading.

One or more of the following tests for rectal cancer screening may be recommended:

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) - checks for blood in three consecutive stool samples.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy - uses a flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope) to look at the interior walls of the rectum and part of the colon.
  • Colonoscopy - uses a flexible, lighted tube (colonoscope) to look at the interior walls of the rectum and the entire colon.

Rectal Cancer Screening Recommendations

Regular screening for gastrointestinal cancers should begin at age 50. If you are at a higher risk of developing rectal cancer, it is recommended that you begin screening at a younger age, and may need to be tested more frequently. Although it is not generally recommended to continue testing after the age of 75, the decision to stop should be made on an individual basis.

Who is at Risk of Developing Rectal Cancer?

Researchers have found several risk factors that may increase your chance of developing rectal cancer. Some of the risks include:

  • Age – more than 90 percent of cases occur in those 50 and older
  • Existing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Family history
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Lack of regular physical activity
  • A low-fiber and high-fat diet
  • Being overweight
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Tobacco use

Abramson Cancer Center's genetics clinic provides testing and counseling for people at high risk of developing rectal and other gastrointestinal cancers. Genetics counselors in the program work with patients to reduce their risk of developing future cancers.