Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States, and more than 145,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Colorectal screening is one of the most effective ways to detect cancer at its earliest stages when the chances of successful treatment are higher. That means colonoscopies are important screening exams that save lives. Updated guidelines provide recommendations for who should schedule a colonoscopy and how often.
What is a colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy is perhaps the most widely known of all the colorectal screening tools. Other screening tests include flexible sigmoidoscopy, CT colonography, and stool tests.
A colonoscopy allows your provider to see inside your colon to check for abnormal growths. It’s also used to diagnose other gastrointestinal disorders. The doctor examines the colon using a thin, lighted tube with a camera attached.
At what age should I begin scheduling colonoscopy screenings?
In the past, 50 was the magic number to start scheduling recommended colonoscopy screenings. After reviewing research data, the American Cancer Society released updated guidelines. Years of clinical data showing that colon cancer increasingly occurs in men and women younger than 50 prompted a recommendation for men and women of average risk to start screening at age 45. Adults with risk factors may need to be screened sooner.
Common colon cancer risk factors include:
- History of colon polyps or colon cancer
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease
How often should I schedule a colonoscopy?
So, you’re 45 or older and know that you should start scheduling colonoscopy screenings. The next question is, how often should you screen? Here are the latest guidelines, based on your risk for colon cancer:
If you’re at average risk
Based on how long it typically takes colon cancer to develop, the current recommendation is for people who are healthy and of average risk to schedule a colonoscopy screening at least once every 10 years.
If you’re at elevated risk
People with a family history of colorectal cancer, certain colon polyps, or other risk factors should screen more often. How often to get a colonoscopy depends on several factors, including your individual medical history. Your gastroenterologist will provide individualized recommendations. For example, people who have a history of radiation to the abdomen may need to screen as often as every five years.
If you’re at high risk
Certain people are at a high risk for developing colorectal cancer. This includes people with inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. If you’re in this category, you may need to have a colonoscopy once a year. People in this group can make colonoscopy a part of their annual checkup.
Get your colon health checked out
If you’re concerned about your risk of developing colon cancer, the highly-skilled board-certified surgeons here at Lakeland Surgical Clinic, PLLC are here to answer your questions and address your concerns.
Recommendations change over time as research provides new information. Additionally, experts may offer slightly different recommendations from one another. We can help cut through the confusion and offer evidence-based recommendations to support you in maintaining your health. To be proactive about your colon health, call our office to schedule an appointment.