General Wellness

Colon Cancer and Other Important Screenings

If the pandemic caused you to put some of your routine healthcare check-ups and screenings on the backburner, the new year gives us a fresh opportunity to take stock of what you may need to do to get back on track.

Below is a checklist of recommended screenings for women to help you determine what appointments you may need to consider in 2021, including an important update to colon cancer screenings.

Every year: Annual wellness checks may include a physical exam, mental health check-up, hypertension and diabetes screenings, cholesterol tests and immunizations such as the flu shot. In addition, biannual dentist visits and annual skin checks with a dermatologist are recommended. Starting at age 40, most women will have annual mammograms, which may switch to every two years at age 55, depending on preference and personal history.

Every 3-5 years: Cervical cancer screenings (Pap or Pap plus HPV test) through age 65, at which point you can talk with your doctor to determine if these are necessary and how often.

Every 5 years: Cholesterol screening, starting at age 45 unless risk factors are present. If you have diabetes, heart disease or other conditions, you will likely need to be screened earlier and more regularly.

Every 5 to 10 years: Colon cancer screenings are now recommended starting at age 45* and may be required more frequently for those at greater risk.

Colon Cancer Screening: What You Need to Know

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women combined and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Experts concerned about the sharp rise in colorectal cancer among those ages 18 to 35 are now recommending screenings at an earlier age.

In particular, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force lowered its recommended age from 50 to 45 for average-risk adults to get their first screening, in line with the American Cancer Society’s guidelines. Anyone with a strong family or personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps or inflammatory bowel disease will likely be encouraged to get screened at an even earlier age. Generally, those in good health should continue with regular screenings through age 75 and then discuss the potential for more with their healthcare provider.

The screening options for colorectal care include visual exams such as a colonoscopy, typically performed every five to 10 years, as well as stool-based tests (Cologuard), which need to be performed more frequently (every one to three years). In addition, everyone should be on the lookout for potential signs of colorectal cancer, such as bleeding, pain, and altered bowel or stool patterns, and maintain a focus on a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding tobacco use and excessive consumption of alcohol.

“Let’s be honest—this is no one’s favorite topic or procedure—but it is so important to pay attention to our total health and wellness, and colonoscopies are an important part of this,” said Dr. Erin Stevens. “If you are between the ages of 45 and 50, talk with your doctor this year about colorectal screening options. A new year is also a great time to set your key appointments for the year, including your annual check-up.”

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