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Early Detection of Colon Cancer Saves Lives

Published in Cancer Care, For the Health of It Author: Ryan Davis,DO

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. But with early detection and treatment, the chances of survival are much greater.

For many years, the recommendation for adults who are at average risk for colorectal cancer was to begin having regular colonoscopies when they turned 50. The American Cancer Society’s guidelines now recommend that colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 45. The recommended age was lowered from 50 to 45 in May 2021 because colorectal cancer cases are on the rise among young and middle-aged people. Although overall colorectal cancer rates have dropped, deaths of people under age 55 have increased by 1% per year from 2008 to 2017.

Men and women with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, such as family history or those with inflammatory bowel disease, should ask their physician to determine the best age to start their screening and what screening schedule to follow based on individual risk.

People who are in good health should continue having regular colorectal cancer screenings through age 75. For people ages 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be made jointly with your primary care physician and patient preferences.

Colorectal cancer is most treatable when found early, and there are now several different test options available for colorectal cancer screening.

  • Colonoscopy (visual exam) uses a scope to look for and remove abnormal growths in the colon/rectum. Recommended every 10 years unless sooner follow-up is needed based on colonoscopy results.
  • Multitarget stool DNA test (such as Cologuard®) finds abnormal DNA and blood in the stool sample. Recommended every 3 years.
  • FIT/FOBT (fecal immunochemical test/fecal occult blood test) detects blood in the stool sample. Recommended once a year.

The most important thing is to get screened, no matter which test you choose. If you receive any abnormal test results on non-colonoscopy screening tests, you should then follow up with a timely colonoscopy. If you have questions, speak with your doctor about which screening might be a good option for you. Most colon cancer screening tests are covered by insurance, including Medicare. It is always recommended that you check with your insurance provider about your individual coverage.

Unlike some other cancers, colon cancer can take a prolonged amount of time to develop, often 10-15 years. In the early stages of colon cancer there are often no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Getting screened regularly may increase your chances of finding, treating, and potentially surviving colon cancer. Because the risk of colon cancer increases with age, even if you have been screened in the past, you should follow the schedule of recommended screenings in the future. How often you screen depends on which test you choose.

Many people are behind on their colorectal cancer screenings. Make this the year that you put your health first and get screened for colon cancer.