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Colon Cancer

Colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer) is the second-leading cause of cancer death in New York City, after lung cancer. It is most often found in people aged 45 and older.

Risk Factors

You are more likely to get colon cancer if you:

  • Are older (the older you get, the higher your risk)
  • Had colon cancer or polyps previously, or if you have a family history of colon cancer
  • Have certain inherited risks, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome
  • Have ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
  • Do not exercise regularly
  • Have obesity
  • Drink alcohol
  • Smoke

Know your risk factors and, where possible, try to address them.

Reduce Your Risk

To lower your risk of colon cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat fewer processed meats, such as hot dogs and deli meats
  • If you smoke, make a plan to quit
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce the amount and how often you drink alcohol


Routine screenings can prevent colon cancer or help find it early, when it is easier to treat. There are several different types of screenings. Ask your provider about which of the below options might be right for you.

A colonoscopy involves a small tube with a camera being put inside your colon and rectum. It requires a special diet the day before and medication to clean out the colon. A colonoscopy can both detect cancer and remove polyps — small growths that may develop into cancer if left alone. A colonoscopy has a low risk for complications and is usually painless.

Stool-based tests can be done at home by collecting a stool (feces) sample using a test kit and sending the kit to a lab. This test requires little or no preparation and has no health risk. If the result is abnormal, you will need a follow-up colonoscopy.

Steps to take for colon cancer screening:

  • Talk to your health care provider about your risk of colon cancer. Most people should ask about screening starting at age 45. You may need to start earlier if you are at increased risk, for example due to colon cancer in your family, or if you have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Ask about your screening options and discuss the risks and benefits.
  • Work with your provider to be sure your insurance covers the test you choose.
  • Schedule and complete your colon cancer screening test.
  • Keep up with screening according to one of the following recommended intervals:
  • If you have an abnormal test result, follow your provider’s advice for next steps.


Most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, cover colon cancer screenings starting at age 50. If you are between ages 45 and 49, coverage for screening varies. Consult with your health care provider about your colon cancer risk and with your insurer about your coverage before your screening test.

If you do not have insurance, you may be eligible to sign up for low- or no-cost coverage. You can also get free in-person assistance signing up for a plan.

If you cannot get insurance, or if your insurance does not cover screening, you have options. Call 311 to be connected to a New York City Health + Hospitals location and find out if you qualify for low-cost or no-cost colon cancer screening. You can also contact the New York State Cancer Services Program, which provides colon cancer screening to uninsured New Yorkers ages 50 to 75.

Choosing a Colon Cancer Screening Test

Learn about colon cancer prevention with the graphic novella, Choosing a Colon Cancer Screening Test: Mark's Decision. Read how Mark chooses between an at-home stool test and a colonoscopy, and how Mark and his family take steps to lower their risk of colon cancer.

Preparing for a Colonoscopy

Learn how to get ready for a colonoscopy with the graphic novella, Preparing for a Colonoscopy: Sandra’s Story. Read how Sandra prepares for a colonoscopy by consuming a liquid diet, avoiding opaque liquids and arranging for someone to pick her up after the surgery.

Colon Cancer Test Fact Sheets

Additional Resources

More Information