Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States, and one of the most preventable. Colorectal cancer, oftentimes referred to as colon cancer, is able to be identified, treated, and cured when caught before culmination or growth into later stages. What makes colon cancer so preventable is the ability to detect the first signs of it through colonoscopies.
Colonoscopies are performed by examining the colon for signs of polyps, tumors, ulcers, and any other areas that are damaged. When a colonoscopy is performed and polyps are discovered, they can be removed before they become cancerous or before you begin to notice any cancerous symptoms. Discovering signs of colon cancer in its early stages allows for a more successful, easier treatment since it’s contained to a localized area. A gastroenterologist can help you determine when you should receive your next procedure.
When Should You Get Your First Colonoscopy?
With colon cancer being so prominent yet preventable through colonoscopies, the next question you should be asking is when you should start getting these screenings. The answer is: it depends! Most people—both male and female—with average risk for colon cancer are safe to begin screening at age 50. However, there are many factors that can lower the starting age for colonoscopies due to other factors that may increase someone’s risk.
Pay attention to considerations when deciding when to begin colonoscopy screenings, such as your consumption habits, overall health, indirectly related medical issues, family’s history of cancer, and even how removed you are to these family members.
When to Get A Colonoscopy With Family History
Any sign of colon cancer or polyps found among any member of your family necessitates the need for you to get a screening earlier than planned. The lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is approximately 6%, however, this risk is doubled if one first degree member of your family discovered polyps or were diagnosed with colon cancer after age 50. This lifetime risk is increased even further if first degree members of your family were diagnosed at an earlier age or if multiple first degree relatives were diagnosed.
Consider the following situations and schedule your first colonoscopy screening accordingly:
- Any member of your family has had any form of cancer, especially colon cancer: Begin screening at age 40 or 10 years prior to the youngest diagnosed case of cancer, whichever comes first. For example, if a member of your family discovered cancer at age 40, you should get your first screening at age 30.
- A first degree member of your family (child, sibling, mother, or father) discovered polyps or cancer: Begin screening at age 40 or 10 years prior to the youngest diagnosed case.
The age you should get your first colonoscopy is dependent on your family history with cancer – especially colon cancer. People without a history of cancer should begin colonoscopies at age 50, but people with a family history of cancer should begin screening at age 40 or 10 years prior to the youngest diagnosed case.
Other Cases of Early or More Frequent Colonoscopy Screenings
Not surprisingly, a person’s overall health affects the necessity to begin screenings at an earlier age. Living a healthy lifestyle with a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption can lessen your chances of colon cancer. On the opposite spectrum, a poor diet leading to obesity or other gastrointestinal issues, excessive consumption of alcohol, and habitual smoking can increase your chances of colon cancer.
Aside from lifestyle choices, medical issues such as polyps or symptoms of other gastrointestinal issues can require you to get a screening before the age of 50. Look out for the following symptoms and diagnoses to determine when to schedule your colonoscopy:
- You’ve been screened and discovered polyps: The size and type of polyps discovered will weigh into when you should get your next colonoscopy. If you fall in this category, you should schedule your next colonoscopy within the next 5 years after discovery. However, again, a gastroenterologist can help you make the best determination for your health.
- You have an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): If you have Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, you may required to get your first screening earlier than usual. Depending on your condition, schedule your colonoscopy according to these guidelines:
- Crohn’s Disease: Begin screening 15 years after initial diagnosis or at age 50, whichever comes first.
- Ulcerative Colitis: Begin screening 8 years after initial diagnosis, whichever comes first.
- Gastrointestinal Symptoms: There are some gastrointestinal issues and symptoms that may require you to get a screening before the average age. Although many of the following symptoms may not necessarily be strictly indicative of colon cancer, it’s always nice to be able to cross it off the list of possibilities. Pay attention to your body and request a colonoscopy if you’re experiencing any of the following (with the recommendation of a gastroenterologist):
- Rectal bleeding
- Severe abdominal pain
- Changes in bowel movements
- Excessive diarrhea
Full Colonoscopy Guidelines
Your family history and health conditions determine when you should begin screenings, as well as provide guidelines for repeat colonoscopies. Use the chart below to schedule your first and repeat colonoscopy screenings as necessary:
|Factor||When to Get Your First Colonoscopy||Repeat Colonoscopy Guidelines|
|Average risk||Age 50||Once every 10 years|
|Family member with any form of cancer||Age 40 or 10 years prior to youngest diagnosed age, whichever comes first||Once every 5 years|
|First degree relative with polyps or cancer||Age 40 or 10 years prior to youngest diagnosed age, whichever comes first||Once every 5 years|
|Self: discovered polyps||Within 5 years of discovery||Depends on size and type of polyps|
|Self: Crohn’s Disease||15 years after initial diagnosis or at age 50, whichever comes first||Once every 1-3 years|
|Self: Ulcerative Colitis||8 years after initial diagnosis or at age 50, whichever comes first||Once every 1-2 years|
If you are aware of any of these factors, contact us to request an appointment with a gastroenterologist to get a professional recommendation.