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Colon Cancer Screening is Extremely Important; Guidelines Now Say to Start at Age 45 if There Is No Family History

Published Oct 27, 2020

Dr. Heather Yeo Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian

Colon cancers start out as a polyp, or small growth, in the colon that causes no symptoms. Although polyps can’t be felt, they can be picked up by screening tests before they cause a problem. It takes up to 10 years for a colon polyp to become a full-blown cancer, which gives doctors time to remove the polyp before it causes a problem.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently drafted new recommended guidelines which state colon cancer screenings should begin at 45-years-old. This is in response to the increase we are seeing of colon cancer diagnoses in younger adults. However, many insurance companies still do not cover the cost of screenings for those below the age of 50. In the past, the disease had predominantly been found in adults 50-years or older, but for those predisposed to get it at a younger age, these new guidelines could potentially help catch it at an earlier stage.

The best and most complete way of screening is a colonoscopy every 10 years. In general, you should get your first colonoscopy at age 45 but the guidelines differ depending on your risk category. If you have a close relative who had colon cancer, a rule of thumb is to get screened 10 years prior to their age of diagnosis to make sure any growths or cancers are caught early. If you have several family members who had colon cancer, or family members who got it at a young age (less than 50 years old), it may be necessary to undergo genetic screening.  And if you have a lot of polyps on your colonoscopy or if you yourself have had colon cancer previously, you will need a colonoscopy every 3 to 5 years.

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Dr. Heather Yeo is a medical advisor to SurvivorNet. She is board-certified in general surgery, colon and rectal surgery, and complex general surgical oncology. She is an assistant professor of Surgery and Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medical College and assistant attending surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Read More

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