If you’re a man 45 years old, it’s time for your first colonoscopy. You may be thinking—"wait, I’m not 50—I don’t need that yet,” but the American Cancer Society recently updated its recommendation on when adults of average risk should get their first colonoscopy. The recommendation is now 45 for men and women — five years earlier than previously advised.
Why the change? Recent studies show an increase in colorectal cancer in those under 50. This still occurs at a low rate of 10 to 15 per 100,000 people per year, compared to those who are over 50 and develop colorectal cancer, which is 100 to 150 per 100,000 people per year. But, because of that 10 percent jump in cancer rates starting at age 50, getting screened at that age or sooner is strongly recommended.
The Benefits of the Colonoscopy Screening
Growths or polyps can form in the inner linings of the colon or rectum. Some of these polyps can change into cancer over time, and that cancer can spread into the wall of the colon or rectum.
A colonoscopy screens for abnormalities in the colon or rectum, and during the process, the doctor can remove polyps. That way, if the polyps are cancerous, the cells are removed and treatment can start early, which typically results in a better outcome. If the polyps are not currently cancerous, the removal ensures the polyps cannot change into cancer in the future. For people over 50, screenings have reduced the rate of those being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
How Often Should You Get a Colonoscopy?
The recommendation for the frequency of a colonoscopy hasn’t changed. If you have an average risk of colorectal cancer, you should get screened every 10 years. If you have a higher risk, the recommendation is for more frequent checks:
- If you have undergone radiation, you should get screened at least every five years.
- If you normally develop polyps, you should be screened every three years, although this depends on the size, number and type of polyps found.
- If you have a history of colorectal cancer, you should get screened every year.
- If you have inflammatory bowel disease or hereditary cancer syndrome, work closely with your gastroenterologist to get screened early and frequently.
Options for Colorectal Screening
The preparation for the colorectal screening (which involves drinking a formula to thoroughly cleanse your colon) is not necessarily pleasant. The process requires taking a day off from work and the procedure is invasive. It’s no wonder people look for alternatives to the traditional screening.
One option includes a stool test, but evidence indicates this type of test is not as effective at detecting colorectal cancer as a colonoscopy. However, the stool test is preferable to no screening at all. New stool DNA tests have entered the market, but there is currently no data supporting that this type of test is as effective as a colonoscopy. A virtual colonoscopy is a newer procedure that provides a CT scan, but is not as effective as a colonoscopy.
Bottom line, the traditional colonoscopy remains the gold standard in screening, and, of all the options, is the only one that enables your doctor to remove polyps at the time of the screening.
Reducing Your Colorectal Cancer Risk
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. One in 22 men and 1 in 24 women will develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime. Colonoscopies can help reduce your risk, as can the following actions:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Moderating your alcohol intake
- Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grain fibers
- Minimizing the amount of red meat and processed meats you eat
- Avoiding smoking
In addition to these lifestyle changes, a colonoscopy screening—at the prescribed age and frequency – is the best action you can take to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
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