Colorectal cancer screening and prevention

What you need to know about colorectal cancer, including when and where you should get screened and tips to protect yourself.

Risk factors

Colorectal cancer is the third-most diagnosed type of cancer in Canada. There are a number of risk factors. It can be caused by family history or genes. Your lifestyle can also increase your risk.

Ontario offers a free screening program to help protect people from this cancer. If you need treatment, your doctor will discuss the options with you.

Learn more about colorectal cancer

Why you should screen

When colorectal cancer is caught early:

  • most people (90%) recover fully after treatment
  • your cancer is less likely to spread
  • you may have more options to treat your cancer

When to go for screening

Use the tool to find out when you should get screened for colorectal and other cancers.

Time to screen tool

Types of screening

ColonCancerCheck is Ontario’s screening program for colorectal cancer. There are two screening tests:

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
  • colonoscopy

Learn more about the ColonCancerCheck program

How to join the ColonCancerCheck program

If you have a primary care provider:

  • you may receive a letter from ColonCancerCheck inviting you to enter the program
  • your primary care provider (family doctor or nurse practitioner) may talk to you about screening

If you don’t have a primary care provider:

  • call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213 to enter the program
  • talk to your pharmacist — he or she can share information about the program and give you a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kit
  • contact ColonCancerCheck directly by email or call INFOline at 1-866-410-5853 — ask about the program and how to join

Take the Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)

Who should take the test

Everyone between the ages of 50 and 74 should get this test every two years if their risk of cancer is average.

How it works

It’s a simple test that you can do yourself in your own home. You then send the test off by mail to get your results. You must complete and mail the kit 1 month before the expiry date.

Before you take the test

Check the expiry date on your kit — you can find it at the bottom of the slide card inside the kit envelope.

Check the expiry date on your kit. You can find it at the bottom of the slide card inside the kit envelope

If your kit is expired or expiring within a month: contact your health care provider about getting a replacement kit. If you don’t have a health care provider or have other questions, call INFOline at 1-866-410-5863.

Don’t take the test if you also have any symptoms of colorectal cancer or you have blood in your urine. Wait three days after you stop bleeding if you’re:

  • menstruating
  • bleeding from hemorrhoids
  • bleeding from dental work

Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) instructions (available in 28 languages)

Get your FOBT test results

ColonCancerCheck will send a letter with your results to you and your health care provider. What happens next depends on your results:

If your result is negative (-)

ColonCancerCheck will send you a reminder letter in 2 years, when it’s time for another test.

If your result is positive (+)

It means there’s blood in your stool. This doesn’t always mean you have cancer. You’ll need to follow up with a colonoscopy to find out.

If you have a health care provider, he or she should contact you to arrange the next steps.

If you don’t have a health care provide, ColonCancerCheck will arrange for your follow-up care.

If you don’t get your results within a month

Contact your health care provider. If you don’t have a health care provider, call ColonCancerCheck directly at 1-866-410-5853.

Get a colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is an examination of the lining of your rectum and colon using a long flexible tube with a camera on the end. This test is for people with a higher risk of cancer. Your doctor may recommend this test if:

  • you have a positive FOBT result 
  • a sibling, child or parent had colorectal cancer

Tips to reduce your risk

  • maintain a healthy body weight
  • be physically active
  • reduce alcohol intake
  • don’t smoke
  • take calcium or folic acid supplements
  • know your family history — if a close relative had colorectal cancer, you could be at increased risk
  • most importantly, get screened
Updated: April 9, 2015