When are colonoscopies no longer needed?
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death with an estimated 52,980 people dying from the cancer every year. The latest guidance from the American Cancer Society recommends colorectal cancer screening starting at age 45 because cases and deaths are increasing among younger people.
Up until 2021, doctors were advising adults at average risk for colon cancer to get a colonoscopy starting at age 50. The age was lowered based on trending data.
“Studies show that the incidence of colorectal cancer in adults aged 40-49 years old has increased by almost 15% from 2000-2002 to 2004-2016,” says Dr. Nilay Kumar, a gastroenterologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wis. “This is why an initial screening at age 45 is so important.”
The good news is that colon cancer is quite treatable when found early. Colonoscopies not only detect the disease but also prevent cancer by removing precancerous polyps during the procedure.
Lowering the age for a first colonoscopy also allows Medicare and most other health insurance to cover the cost.
“Colonoscopy is one of the most cost-effective tools for detecting colon cancer and potentially saving your life,” says Dr. Kumar.
Recommendations change slightly after age 75, when you should begin making screening decisions with the help from your doctor based on your preferences, life expectancy, health status and prior screening history.
Most individuals over the age 85 with no prior issues are discouraged from getting a colonoscopy because the risks are greater than the benefits at this age.
People with a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors should ask their physician about when they should begin screening. Genetic testing is also available to find out if you have the BRCA gene, which puts you at greater risk for colon cancer.
So how and when should you get screened?
- It is recommended that you receive an initial colonoscopy at age 45, and then one every 10 years if no issues are found on the first one.
- A follow-up colonoscopy should be performed after a positive result from a non-colonoscopy screening test.
- A FIT (fecal immunochemical test) or gFOBT (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test) should be performed every year.
- Stool DNA tests should be performed every three years.
Learn your risk for colorectal cancer by taking our colorectal health assessment. Learn more information about colorectal cancer screenings in Illinois or Wisconsin.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.
One comment. My father died of colon cancer. I am screened every FIVE uears because that makes me higher risk. Don’t assume 10 is enough if you have other factors. The stuff you drink is the worst part anyway
Get your colonoscopy! The prep is the worst part. It’s definitely worth it.
My son is 33 years old. Our family history includes colon cancer for my mom, my brother, and my cousin all had colon cancer at ages ranging from 40 to 65. When my son started having symptoms in February, he had a lot of trouble getting doctors to do a colonoscopy despite our family history. They told him he was “too young” to worry about colon cancer. After several months and many negative diagnostic tests, he finally found a doctor to do the colonoscopy. He had a 6cm adenocarcinoma in his sigmoid colon. His surgeon at Duke said they are seeing an explosion of young men especially, who are being diagnosed with colon cancer. The recommended age for first colonoscopy for those with family history should be lowered. Insurance companies won’t want to do it. If you have symptoms or family history, fight to get a colonoscopy!
My son had his first colonoscopy at 33 and they found cancerous polyps which were removed. Thank God I pushed him to go based on family history.
Thank you for the information regarding colonoscopies.
There has never been any issues with colon cancer in my family, yet I followed my doctors advice and had the colonoscopies as scheduled because they stated I had a few polyps, which they removed. The second time, I had twice as many, and again they removed them. The third time, the same, there were more! I began to do research and found that in some people that if polyps are removed they do come back and multiply! I absolutely refuse to have this done again because it can get to where they block my system and become life threatening. Science does back this up and these doctors should know this!!