When to Get a Colonoscopy
Routine colon cancer screening saves many lives. The most commonly used test for this purpose is a colonoscopy, which can identify precancerous growths (polyps) in the large intestine and rectum. The polyps can then be safely and easily removed – often during the same procedure – before they become cancerous. As a result, this important test can actually prevent colorectal cancer, the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States. A colonoscopy can also detect early-stage colon cancer before any symptoms develop. This can allow for prompt treatment, which usually translates to a better outcome.
Most experts recommend a baseline colonoscopy at age 50 for individuals who have an average risk of developing colon cancer. If the results of this initial test are normal, a follow-up colonoscopy is usually recommended once every 10 years thereafter.
With that said, 50 is not the right age for everyone. Researchers have identified several risk factors that are believed to make certain people more likely to develop colon cancer. For instance, some risk factors that may warrant testing at a younger age include:
- Having a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps – Individuals with a family history colorectal cancer or polyps may have a heightened risk of developing the condition themselves, especially if a close relative was diagnosed at a young age. In general, screening should begin at least 10 years before an individual reaches the age of the earliest case in his or her immediate family. For example, if a parent was diagnosed at age 48, his or her children should have their first colonoscopy by age 38.
- Having certain hereditary conditions – People who are diagnosed with Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, or certain other inherited conditions may have an elevated risk of developing colorectal cancer. For these individuals, a physician may advise earlier screenings on a case-by-case basis.
- Being of African American descent – Due to a disproportionately higher incidence of colorectal cancer among the African American population, many physicians suggest a baseline colonoscopy at age 45 or earlier for African Americans.
The bottom line is that everyone should be screened for colorectal cancer according to the guidelines recommended by a physician based on a personal health assessment. When an individual is committed to taking a proactive role in his or her health care, colorectal cancer can be one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
To speak with a health care professional about colorectal cancer screening recommendations, you can call or visit South Tampa Immediate Care.