General Wellness

Ask Sofia: When do I need a colonoscopy?

Until recently, age 50 has long been the common benchmark for the first colonoscopy. However, the American Cancer Society is now advising American men and women to undergo screening at 45, in response to increasing colorectal cancer rates in young people. Colon and rectal cancers are now the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and about 140,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year.

While the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and some other organizations still recommend screening starting at age 50, we believe there is merit in the new guidelines and encourage patients to start a discussion with their doctor at the very least.

“Since colorectal cancer is on the rise for young people, this earlier colonoscopy screening serves two important purposes,” said Dr. Erin Stevens. “It can detect cancer earlier when it is easier to cure and it can present an opportunity for greater discussion about the lifestyle factors that influence colon and rectal cancer.”

You can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by avoiding smoking, excess use of alcohol and processed foods. Sedentary lifestyles and environmental exposure may also play a role. In addition, those with family history of colon or rectal polyps as well as African Americans and Alaska Natives are at increased risk.

The American Cancer Society recommends colonoscopy screening every 10 years – unless there are changes in bowel habits or blood in the stool – until age 75. The new guidelines also note that there are six screening options, including noninvasive stool tests, based on availability and patient preference. The prep for colonoscopies has also improved over the past decade.

“Ultimately, this is a personal decision, but getting screened for colon and rectal cancer can provide both information and peace of mind,” Dr. Stevens added.

She adds that patients should contact their insurance company regarding coverage for the procedure.

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