A weekly column addressing your most sought-after health questions, answered by Harbin Clinic’s expert healthcare professionals.
Question: At what age should you get your first colonoscopy?
Dr. George Goldin, MD: Colon cancer screening is a proven lifesaver because colonoscopies detect precancerous growths (polyps) that form in the large intestine (colon) and the rectum. Should any polyps be spotted during the colonoscopy, they can be removed safely and efficiently prior to any cancerous changes or symptoms. The earlier you get screened, the more effective preventing colorectal cancer is. Below are a few helpful facts to help determine what age you should get your first colonoscopy.
Average risk individuals (those without a family history) – The US Multi-Society Task Force of Colorectal Cancer Screening recommends patients start screening at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter. Recently, the American Cancer Society has suggested that screenings should start earlier, at age 45. However, there has not yet been universal acceptance of this recommendation by all GI societies. Each patient should discuss appropriate screening recommendations with their primary care physician. Due to a disproportionately higher incidence of colon cancer among African-Americans, research suggests a colonoscopy at age 45 or earlier.
Having a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps – Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps may have a higher risk of developing the condition themselves, especially if the close relative was diagnosed at a young age. As a general rule, these individuals should begin screening ten years before the age of the youngest case in his or her immediate family. For example, if an individual’s parent was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 45, they should have their first colonoscopy by age 35.
Having certain hereditary conditions – People diagnosed with familial adenomatous polyposis, hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (Lynch syndrome), or other inherited diseases may have a heightened risk of developing colorectal cancer. For these individuals, a gastroenterologist may recommend earlier screenings on a case-by-case basis.
The physicians at Harbin Clinic Gastroenterology provide personalized and comprehensive care for digestive tract and liver diseases.