When Should You Begin Colon Cancer Screenings?

The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer screening beginning at age 45. 

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, and the second leading cause of death from cancer (when data on men and women are combined). 

But regular testing is one of the most effective ways to prevent colorectal cancer. Screening can find precancerous polyps and they can be removed before they become cancerous. Even if cancer has already developed, catching it early increases chances of survival. In fact, 90% of colorectal cancer cases can be cured if they’re caught early.

Experts estimate that if 80% of people over 45 were tested for colon cancer, more than 200,000 deaths could be avoided by 2030. In Arkansas, just 66% of people in the appropriate age group have been tested.

Risk factors

Some people are at greater risk for colon cancer than others. There are some lifestyle choices that can increase risk:

  • Smoking increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Obesity increases the risk.
  • Regular exercise lowers the risk of colorectal cancer; a sedentary lifestyle increases risk.
  • Eating fruits and vegetables and whole grains decreases the risk.
  • Eating more red meat increases the risk.
  • Alcoholism increases the risk.

There are also some factors that are not chosen:

  • Men are more likely to have colorectal cancer than women.
  • African Americans have a statistically higher chance of developing colorectal cancer.
  • If you have colon cancer in your family, you are more likely to develop it yourself.

Screening options

There are options for screenings. A classic test is a yearly specimen to check stool for microscopic blood.  Another example, is an at-home test that allows you to collect a stool sample at home and send it to a lab that checks the DNA of the sample to identify possible problems.  They do not require the preparation required by a colonoscopy and they do not involve any discomfort. If either of these tests are positive, a colonoscopy is required. 

A colonoscopy is a visual examination of the colon with a colonoscope. A colonoscope is a flexible tube with a tiny video camera at the end. It allows your doctor to look at the colon.

A screening colonoscopy takes an hour or two. Since it involves sedation, it can take a while after the test before you feel like yourself again. It also requires preparation. You won’t eat solid foods the day before your screening, and you will be given a laxative solution to help prepare your colon. The procedure itself may be uncomfortable.

This screening procedure allows your doctor to do a thorough exam, and also to remove polyps or treat other issues as they are discovered.

Talk to your MANA primary care doctor to see what option is right for you and remember that avoidance of screening is not an option.