News & Views

Feature Story

Screening for Colorectal Cancer Can Save Lives

March 8, 2018

Smiling African American man and woman embracing

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, yet only two in three adults in the United States is adequately screened. With appropriate screening, however, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Men and women at average risk should begin screening at age 50.

In observance of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we interviewed Karl Kwok, MD, an interventional gastroenterologist at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, about the importance of screening tests and what we can do to lower our risk of cancer.

Why is colorectal cancer screening so important?

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. However, it’s also one of the most treatable cancers. When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage, the five-year relative survival rate is approximately 90 percent. In fact, regular screenings can help detect advanced polyps, which are precancerous, and allow us to remove them using advanced techniques that do not require surgery. This returns your colon-cancer risk back to baseline.

What methods are used to screen people for colorectal cancer?

Kaiser Permanente, in line with the United States Preventive Services Task Force, encourages its members age 50 and above to either undergo a yearly at-home fecal immunochemical test, also known as a FIT test; an average-risk sigmoidoscopy every five years; or an average-risk colonoscopy every 10 years.

People with a higher risk for colorectal cancer, such as those with a strong family history of colorectal cancer, may need to start routine testing before age 50 and have it more often.

To figure out which screening test is best for you, have a conversation with your primary care provider. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but one thing is certain: Regular colorectal cancer screenings can save lives.

Can colorectal cancer be prevented?

To a large extent, YES! Most cases of colorectal cancer are due to sporadic development of precancerous polyps that do not cause symptoms for a long period of time. This is why screening is critical — the earlier we detect and remove these polyps, the less likely they can grow into an advanced polyp and ultimately turn into cancer. Multiple studies have shown that precancerous colon polyp removal is protective against subsequent development of colon cancer.

What risk factors increase a person’s chance of developing colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer?

Some of the known risk factors for developing colon cancer include:

  • Having a diet heavy in red meats and processed meats
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking and heavy alcohol use
  • Having a family history of colon cancer, especially a first degree relative (mother, father, sibling or child)
  • Having a personal history of colorectal polyps or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (a condition which causes chronic inflammation of the colon)
  • Your racial and ethnic background or your personal health history. For example, African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence. People with a history of kidney transplants and people with type 2 diabetes also have an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

To learn more about colorectal cancer and the screening process, visit

Get Screened!

On Thursday, March 22, all Kaiser Permanente Southern California Medical Centers will host a colorectal cancer screening day. Be part of this life saving event. Please drop off your completed screening kit (FIT kit) at your nearest Kaiser Permanente medical center. If you haven’t received one, call your doctor or visit your customized online Personalized Action Plan on and request a FIT kit.

Need help? This video shows a simple step-by-step process to use the home screening kit.