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At What Age Should I Begin Screening for Colon Cancer?

Unless you have an increased risk of developing colon cancer, you should begin getting regular colon cancer screenings at age 50. Colon cancer is highly treatable if it is diagnosed early.  Early detection is key for successfully treating and curing many diseases including colon cancer.  Unlike many other forms of cancer, colon cancer can also be prevented, by detecting and removing colon polyps, the precursor lesions of colon cancer.

3 reasons to begin colon cancer screenings earlier

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend beginning regular screenings soon after your 50th birthday to prevent developing colorectal cancer. However, there are a few reasons your doctor may recommend getting screened earlier and more often, including:

  • If you have a parent, sibling or child with a history of colorectal polyps or colon cancer.
  • If you have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • If you have a genetic syndrome like Lynch syndrome which can increase your risk of developing colon cancer by approximately 50 percent.

4 types of colon cancer screening tests

Colon cancer, though one of the most treatable and preventable types of cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, affecting men and women equally, and over 50,000 Americans will die of colon cancer this year alone. Before your 50th birthday, talk to your doctor about the different types of colon cancer screening tests to find out which one is best for you. The most common colon cancer tests are:

  • Colonoscopy
    This is an invasive, but relatively painless, and low-risk test that allows your doctor to view the entire rectum and colon as well as remove any suspicious polyps or tissue—no other test offers the same preventative benefit. It requires that you undergo a pre-procedure bowel-cleansing regimen, and someone will need to transport you home after the procedure, as it is typically performed under moderate or deep sedation. If normal, it should be repeated every 10 years.
  • CT colonography
    This test requires radiation exposure, often requires a bowel cleansing, but does not require sedation. It is typically used on people who are too frail to have a colonoscopy, or who have had an incomplete colonoscopy for whatever reason. However, if any suspicious polyps or tissue are detected, they can’t be removed via colonography and will require a colonoscopy or a surgical procedure to remove the pre-cancerous tissue.
  • Fecal immunochemical Test (FIT)
    This is an easy, non-invasive test that requires a stool sample (taken at home) and sent to a lab to test for blood, which could signal the presence of a pre-cancerous or advanced polyp. This must be performed on an annual basis. Interestingly, it has been shown that fewer than 10% of patients actually comply with annual stool testing.
  • FIT-DNA (Cologuard)
    This is the newest test available. It is another non-invasive stool test that you can perform at home, and mail directly to the lab. It checks for blood in the stool as well as any genetic markers that can be present in people that may suggest the presence of colon cancer, or advanced precancerous polyps. This test has a variety of limitations to include a false positive rate of 20% (1 out of 5 patients will have an abnormal result but a normal colonoscopy), a miss rate of 8% for colon cancer, as well as a miss rate of about 60% for advanced or large polyps. This test must be repeated every 3 years.

Contact Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio at 210-614-1234 for an expert colon cancer screening in San Antonio. We’ll help you determine the right timing for your colonoscopy.

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