When Should You Start Colon Cancer Screenings?
Doctors advise most of their patients to start getting screened for colon cancer at age 50. Recently, however, some news headlines have implied that starting earlier might be better. If you’re feeling confused about what to do, here’s what you need to know.
The Latest Guidelines
News reports often focus on individual studies. However, health guidelines are based on a careful review of all the relevant research. Based on the overall evidence, here’s what the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says:
- If you’re age 50 to 75 and have an average risk of developing colon cancer, get screened regularly.
- If you’re younger than age 50 and are at increased risk for colon cancer, ask your doctor when to begin screenings. Risk factors include having inflammatory bowel disease or a personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps (abnormal growths that might turn into cancer later).
- If you’re older than age 75, ask your doctor whether to continue screenings.
The Best Test for You
Doctors may use various tests to check for colon cancer or polyps:
- Stool tests look for blood or altered DNA in a stool sample.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure in which the doctor uses a short lighted tube to look at your rectum and lower colon.
- Colonoscopy is a similar procedure in which the doctor uses a longer lighted tube to look at your rectum and entire colon.
- CT colonography uses X-rays and a computer to produce images of your colon.
Each test has its pros and cons. And don’t forget to factor in your insurance—certain screenings may not be covered. Talk with your doctor about which test is right for you and how often to have it done. Screening can help catch colon cancer early, when treatment works best. Even better, when polyps are found and removed, cancer can be prevented from starting in the first place.
Great Doctors, Incredible Care
Talk to a Gastroenterology Specialist about your options.
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