Each year, VA diagnoses 4,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in Veterans. Colorectal cancer screening can help detect cancer early.

Marine Corps Veteran Larry Shuster was being screened regularly through home-based fecal immunochemical (FIT) testing every year when blood was discovered in his stool. Then, he had a colonoscopy performed to get a better understanding of how advanced his cancer was. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early due to the regular screening and was able to be removed.

“I was listening to my doctors,” shared Shuster. “Everyone really paid me a lot of attention to make sure I was okay.”

Shuster now encourages his fellow Veterans to get screened for colorectal cancer. “Just get it done, and let the doctors help you,” said Shuster.

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives

Colorectal cancer doesn’t care about race, gender or economic status: If you are 45-75 years old, you need colorectal screening. This most commonly comes in the form of a colonoscopy every 10 years. Other options include a home-based fecal immunochemical test that checks for blood in the stool that you can’t see.

“VA encourages all Veterans to take care of their health and get screened for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Folasade May, a gastroenterologist at VA’s Greater Los Angeles Healthcare Medical Center. “Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers where if we catch it early through screening, screening can be the treatment at the same time. Unfortunately, we see lower screening rates in some of our most vulnerable populations, including our American Indian and Native Alaskan Veterans. We really encourage these Veterans to reach out to their primary care provider about screening.”

Department of Defense statistics show American Indians serve in the military among the highest rates per capita compared to other ethnic groups. In fact, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data, there are more than 14,000 living American Indian Veterans.

Check the facts on colorectal cancer screening

There are some misconceptions about colorectal cancer screening and colonoscopies. Let’s fact check some misconceptions.

  • Colon Cancer is a man’s disease: Colon cancer impacts men and women equally. Both genders need regular screening.
  • I’ll know if I’m sick and need a colonoscopy: Colon cancer is a silent killer, meaning you may not see signs before you have advanced disease. This is why regular screening is so important.
  • Only old people get colorectal cancer: Evidence suggests screenings start at 45 years old for a reason. There is a rise in colon cancer rates in younger populations.

A colonoscopy is a procedure that is both diagnostic and curative and just might save your life. Talk to your primary care provider about getting screened today.

To learn more about cancer care at VA, visit cancer.va.gov.

*Editor: The title of this post was edited on 8/26 from “All Veterans need colorectal cancer screening” to “Colorectal cancer screening: what you need to know.”

By Fola May, MD, PhD, MPhil.

Gastroenterologist at the Los Angeles VA Medical Center

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Published on Aug. 16, 2022

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23 Comments

  1. David Forsythe August 25, 2022 at 5:48 pm

    I am an eighty year old Vietnam veteran and my PMC indicated that I am no longer eligible for colonoscopy screening, is that true? My last colonoscopy exam was ten years ago.

  2. Ramon Myers August 25, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    Had my 13nth colonoscopy earlier this Spring. I am 86 1/2 yrs of age now. Got an all clear after 11 year span of time. Covid delay of 1 year. One of the best experiences I’ve had. How do I know? The last 11 procedures were done w/o sedation by my choice leaving me to observe and converse with the professionals present. I’ve had a history of polyps which were removed plus a small recent bulge by the navel due to some heavy lifting. That’s probably the reason I was PUMPED UP with SO MUCH AIR. Naw, that wasn’t a sonic boom, that was me on the toilet afterwards. lolol Thanks, again, Olin Teague V A Medical Center personnel !!! Outstanding care !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Dale Hackney August 25, 2022 at 10:18 am

    I need scheduled for this been several years.?

  4. Virginia Joy Stovall August 25, 2022 at 12:10 am

    There is a history of colorectal cancer in my family that has always concerned me. I have already been plagued with diverticulitis on three occasions. I had a colonoscopy in the past, but I don’t remember when. My present VA medical provider states that I only need one done every ten years, but given my history and intestinal problems over the years, I feel I should have these exams more frequently as any cancer could develop within ten years ….and maybe ten years too late.

  5. Joseph Anderson August 24, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    I’m a veteran, yet I can’t get a screening or even a visit to veterans hospital to discuss colon issues because of my discharge. How is this fair?

  6. ROGER MELLO August 24, 2022 at 7:28 pm

    I went for my annual physical in Providence, R.I. and my bloodwork came back suggesting anemia. Subsequently the VA sent me a stool sample kit and that tested positive for blood. The VA scheduled a colonoscopy and found a malignant tumor. Since I had other insurance, and time was of the essence, I went to Boston for surgery.

    For my follow-up care, I went back to the VA. I needed an iron infusion and that was done without issue. They have assigned me a VA oncologist and I am 100% satisfied with my health care team.

    Being diagnosed with Stage II colon cancer is very daunting, but chemotherapy was not required at this time. However, I do need various images taken to make sure the cancer doesn’t appear in my liver or lungs. VA will perform another colonoscopy in one year, then three years unless another tumor shows up.
    It had been nine years since my last colonoscopy and I had family history. In my case it may be Agent Orange related and I will probably apply to at least get it into my E-file.
    In closing, the prep work isn’t as bad as it used to be, so get it done!

    Cancer surgery is very serious, and because I had complications, I was in one of the best hospitals for twenty nine days and this possibly could have been avoided if I had a colonoscopy at five years when the tumor was most likely a polyp. I am 78 years old and would suggest that veterans over 60 not to procrastinate and do some research before it is too late.

  7. Rita Gray August 24, 2022 at 6:56 pm

    I have a new pcp, but in the past, my other pcp would not give me a yearly fecal occult screening card; even though, as I understand, one should do it yearly- especially over the age of 60.

  8. Jimmie Porter August 23, 2022 at 12:55 am

    What types of screening takes place after the age of 75 years old?

  9. Dom August 22, 2022 at 6:11 pm

    Everyone needs a colonoscopy? VA employee here. 11 years ago….using VA Healthcare, I was told I needed a colonoscopy since I was turning 50. Routine procedure, right? 3 months later….I had high fevers, night sweats, joint pain in my hands and feet…and repeatedly went to the VA emergency room over 3 weekends (while I continued to go to work) and was constantly told I had “gout”. Well, after 3 weeks of this…and starting to get shortness of breath even walking up a flight of stairs, I finally went to private healthcare….and it turns out it wasn’t gout…but endocarditis (a bacterial infection of the mitral valve of my heart). Since I’m not an IV drug user, had not had any recent tattoos or major dental work…I most likely caught the infection from that colonoscopy!! To this day, VA denies that I contracted it from the colonoscopy, and my claims for 38 USC 1151 were denied.

    10 years later, I’m just thankful I’m still here to tell my tale of woe…and while I refuse to take another colonoscopy, I will take the home-based fecal immunochemical test as required.

  10. Albert Workfield August 20, 2022 at 8:29 am

    Why aren’t all VETS given this screening or told about it , when they see their primary doctor??? I hope it is not due to the cost!! This should be mandatory screening for all VETS and for that matter all people??????

    • Fred R August 23, 2022 at 4:47 am

      I too am not a Dr. There IS a risk of a colon puncture, uncontrolled bleeding as well as the heart problems already mentioned. I am 73 and just had one. They were extremely busy, and accommodating to my special needs, possibly the busiest dept. at the VA. and they did an excellent job.
      The Dr. is making choices in YOUR best interest ask questions and trust them

  11. Lenora Jenkins August 19, 2022 at 5:01 pm

    Once you turn 75 and older it seems doctors kick you to the curb. You don’t get this test or need certain test anymore. It makes you afraid to get old.

  12. Walter Wilson August 19, 2022 at 8:14 am

    Why cut off at 75? I’m a vet and I’m 77. I’m too old to be important?

  13. Cliff Burnstein August 19, 2022 at 12:48 am

    Seriously, if screening is so important, why does eligibility end at age 75? Is this just a money saver for VA not having to do the screenings? Is this a money saver for DOD having colon cancer shorten the number of years we collect benefits?

  14. Richard Cobb August 18, 2022 at 11:47 pm

    So does the V..A. Pay for the colonoscopy

  15. Stanley Allen Stutzman August 18, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    The last time I had a colonoscopy the foreign doctor would not knock me out so I had to endure his bad jokes during the time of my procedure. It seems that he had joined a golf club so all he had to say centered around his club. Even though I had this experience I am willing to undergo another round for my health. Sign me up.

  16. John Arsenault August 18, 2022 at 6:01 pm

    Reality can be very different from suggested good health practices. When i moved from Maryland to Georgia, one of the first things i attempted to do was schedule a colonoscopy through VA Health. I was told that there was a considerable backlog for that test, and was i willing to have the test outsourced to a VA approved civilian doctor. When i went to that doctor, i was told he could not perform the test due to my history of heart disease; the colonoscopy would have to be done in a more controlled/ hospital setting. When i informed VA Health of this, the test was eventually rescheduled; with the exact same doctor in the same setting! The arrival of Covid- 19 finished off any chance i had of getting the test in a timely fashion. A home/mail -in test was ordered for me, but never arrived. Based on my family’s history of cancer, i am not sure that kind of test would be of any use or relevant for me.

  17. Richard Wylie August 18, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    What about those of us over 75?

  18. Moose Ricky Jason August 18, 2022 at 5:40 pm

    I’ve had several since I was 45 I am now 59 the first time they removed six Poylups they were not cancers but they recommend I get one about every three years it was five

  19. nathan phillips August 18, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks for the information.

  20. albert bryant August 17, 2022 at 11:06 pm

    How about 92 year up
    are we in an age group that gets a lot of colan cancers

    • G I Joe August 18, 2022 at 5:43 pm

      I’m also one of the many Vets over 75. What does this say about the limitations to care placed on older Vets?

    • Dianne August 18, 2022 at 11:16 pm

      Mr. Bryant-
      You should be screened regularly for colon cancer.
      If you have Medicare or Medicaid make an appointment with your local civilian Doctor and tell them you want to be screened for colon cancer.
      I am Not a healthcare worker.
      I am just a concerned fellow Veteran.

Comments are closed.

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