Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for detecting colorectal cancer in its early stages for two important reasons:
- It’s reliable and accurate
- It can allow the doctor to visualize the colon and remove suspicious tissue in one procedure
In fact, colonoscopy plays such an important role in detecting cancer, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends regular screenings for everyone during their adult years.
As a top-ranked general and colorectal surgeon in White Plains, New York, and Manhattan in New York City, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, uses the most advanced colonoscopy techniques for results that are accurate and dependable. Below, he outlines when you should get a colonoscopy and how often you should have the screening repeated.
When you need your first screening
Every year in the United States, about 150,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 people die from the disease. Those are high numbers, but in fact, the number of colorectal cancer deaths has declined in recent years, a trend the ACS says is likely due in part to an increase in colonoscopy screenings.
However, a recent study also found that colorectal cancer deaths are actually occurring more frequently among younger adults. As a result, the ACS recently updated its guidelines, lowering the recommended age for a first colonoscopy from 50 years to 45 years. Under the new guidelines, the society advises adults with an average risk of colon cancer to have their first screening at age 45, followed by repeat colonoscopies every 10 years until age 75.
Understanding average risk
For the guidelines purposes, the ACS says a person is at average risk for colon cancer if they don’t have:
- A personal or family risk of colorectal cancer
- A personal risk of colon polyps (fleshy growths)
- A personal history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease)
- A personal history of a medical condition that increases the risk of colorectal cancer
- Prior radiation in the belly area to treat another type of cancer
If you fit this average risk category, then you should have your first colonoscopy at age 45, followed by a repeat colonoscopy every 10 years.
What if you do have one or more of those risks? Then, you may need screening more frequently, or you might need your first colonoscopy before you turn 45.
You may also need a colonoscopy if you have:
- Changes in your bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Belly pain
- Blood in your stool
If you’re at an increased risk of colorectal cancer, the timing and frequency of your testing is based on your specific risk factors. Dr. Tarlowe can explain those risk factors to you and develop an optimal screening program based on your unique needs.
Finally, while the ACS recommends colonoscopies up until age 75, that doesn’t mean when you’re 75 years old, you can’t have another colonoscopy. You should still discuss your screening options with Dr. Tarlowe to determine if you should continue to have screenings based on your specific risk factors.
Learn more about colonoscopy
Even though colonoscopy is a simple, straightforward screening, many people worry about what to expect. The fact is, a colonoscopy typically only takes about a half hour to an hour to complete, and you’re sedated ahead of time, so you nap through the whole thing. Afterward, you recover on site for a bit before being discharged home where you can continue your normal routine.
If you need to schedule your first colonoscopy, don’t let worry about the unknown keep you from protecting your health. Call our office or use our online form to schedule a consultation with Dr. Tarlowe today.