Catch up on screenings

Colorectal cancer screening

Dr. Ross Stimpson General Surgeon, Assistant Professor with the University of Manitoba, and Medical Lead for ColonCheck at CancerCare
Last updated: Jun 17, 2024

There are over 7,000 people diagnosed with cancer in Manitoba every year, and over 3,000 deaths. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer death. 

Regular screening with the fecal immunochemical test or FIT” is the best way to find colorectal cancer in its earliest stages when it is the most treatable. Finding cancer early usually means simpler treatments and a greater chance of survival. This simple test can also detect precancerous polyps which can be removed before they become cancers in the future.

Who should get screened?

Routine screening with FIT is recommended by doctors for most individuals between the ages of 50 and 74, the ages most likely to benefit. For most people, screening is recommended every two years. 

For some at increased risk, a different screening may be recommended, such as a colonoscopy. 

Your doctor or health care provider may recommend screening for some individuals under the age of 50 who have personal risk factors.

If you are between ages 75 and 85, your doctor may suggest you continue with screening tests depending on your personal risk factors and whether you will benefit.

How often should I get screened?

Generally, routine FIT screening is recommended every 2 years. 

Some individuals at higher risk may be advised by their doctor to receive a colonoscopy instead of FIT test to screen for colorectal cancer. In these cases, your doctor will recommend how often is right for you. Read more about who is at increased risk, or talk to your doctor if you think you might be at increased risk. 

What does screening involve?

Getting screened means being tested before you have any symptoms. 

For most people, the recommended screening is called a FIT test. The test takes a small sample of your poop and to test for signs of hidden blood, which can be a sign of polyps or cancer. 

FIT tests are easy to do and completely safe. You can do the test in the privacy of your own bathroom, and there are no dietary or medication restrictions, so you can do the test at pretty much any time. Although the test is accurate, it is not foolproof. It may show blood when there is no cancer which can result in an unnecessary colonoscopy. It may not detect blood and not catch a cancer that is present.

🡪 Learn more about FIT tests and colorectal cancer screening from CancerCare Manitoba.

Results from a FIT test will be shared with you and your family doctor or primary care provider. A normal result means no follow-up is needed until your next regular screen in two years. About 6 – 7% of people will have an abnormal test result, but this does not necessarily mean you have cancer as there could be lots of reasons to have blood in your poop. A second test, called a colonoscopy, will likely be recommended to confirm if there are any serious abnormalities present.

A colonoscopy involves inserting a flexible tube with a camera into your colon and rectum to look for abnormal areas, such as polyps and cancer. During this procedure, any polyps can be removed or samples of tissue can be taken to diagnose cancer if necessary.

For some people at higher risk for colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy is sometimes recommended instead of a FIT test. Read more about who is at increased risk here (link to colorectal cancer risk article), and talk to your doctor if you think you might be at increased risk. 

If you have symptoms such as ongoing rectal bleeding, anemia, abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss, do not do the FIT test. Talk to your doctor or health care provider without delay in order to get appropriate testing and diagnosis. While these may be symptoms of colorectal cancer, there are also many other conditions that can cause them.

How can I lower my risk?

To lower your risk of colorectal cancer:

  • Quit smoking. Do not start smoking, and avoid second-hand smoke.

  • Avoid alcohol. The less you drink, the more you reduce your risk.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Move more.

  • Eat healthy.

Learn more

You can learn more about colorectal cancer and screening from the resources below:

Please note: The advice in this article draws on evidence from the research literature, as well as recommendations from CancerCare Manitoba, the Canadian Task Force for Preventive Health Care, and the Canadian Association for Gastroenterology.

Key takeaways

  • Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers and the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

  • Screening is generally recommended every 2 years for those age 50-74.

  • Screening may be recommended for those at higher risk under age 50 or over 75.

  • ColonCheck tests are free with your Manitoba Health card.