Should you wait until 50 for a colonoscopy?

When it comes to colon cancer, there are two sides to the story. First, it is one of the most common, yet treatable forms of cancer when detected early. Second, rates aredeclining for those 50 and older; however, they are increasing for people under the age of 50. Colon cancer screening, such as a colonoscopy, helps reduce the risk of colon cancer by giving health care providers the opportunity to find and remove polyps, abnormal growths of tissue found in the colon, either at the earliest stages of cancer or prior to any cancer developing. It is a screening that goes beyond just detection, but helps prevent cancer as well. Despite this fact, many Americans wait unknowingly too long to schedule a colonoscopy either dreading the preparation for the test or unaware they are at risk.

Colon Cancer Screening at 50

The American Cancer Society guidelines recommend anyone 50 or older have a colon cancer screening if they are of average risk. However, current research shows one in three people 50 to 75 years old have not been tested for colon cancer. The reason many delay colon cancer screening? Some fear the preparation to clear the colon prior to a colonoscopy. That adds up to 20 million Americans who may have early stages of colon cancer, but are not aware since symptoms may not present until later stages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Tom Frieden shares, “screening for colorectal cancer is effective and can save your life.”

Colon Cancer Screening Before 50

For those who are not at average risk, should they wait until the age of 50 for a colon cancer screening? According to the guidelines, anyone who has a family history of colon cancer – a close relative was diagnosed with colon cancer – should have a colonoscopy by the age of 40. However, only 38 percent of Americans who are high risk for colon cancer have a colonoscopy between the ages of 40 and 49. Having a close relative with colon cancer can increase your risk. In fact, as many as one in five people with colon cancer have a family member with the disease. If a parent, sibling or child has colon cancer, the risk doubles.  In addition to the general fear of preparation and testing, experts believe many people are just not aware of the guidelines and therefore, unknowingly put off screening.

Additional Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

In addition to a family history of colon cancer, other risk factors include:

-Personal history of polyps

-African-American race


-Low-fiber, high-fat diet

-Lack of exercise



-Inflammatory intestinal conditions (i.e. Crohn’s Disease)


-Heavy alcohol use

-Radiation therapy for cancer

If you suspect any symptoms of colon cancer, such as bleeding or changes in your bowels, contact your health care provider immediately.

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