The American Cancer Society recently updated its recommendation for when average risk patients should have their first colonoscopy, lowering the age from 50 to 45.
Dr. Leonard Baidoo, a gastroenterologist at Regional One Health, said colonoscopies are the best way to prevent colon cancer or catch it when it is still treatable.
He encourages patients to talk with their physician about their risk factors and follow the recommendations for screening.
There’s no escaping the fact that no one looks forward to a colonoscopy. However, there’s also no doubt it’s the best way to catch colon cancer early or prevent it altogether.
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society recommended that people at average risk for colon cancer get their first colonoscopy at age 45 – earlier than the previous guideline of age 50.
Leonard Baidoo, MD, a world-renowned gastroenterologist at Regional One Health, said the guidance gives physicians a better chance to remove polyps before they become cancerous.
“If a polyp stays in your colon for too long, it can become cancerous,” Dr. Baidoo said. “If the cancerous polyp is very large or the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, it can require difficult surgeries and chemotherapy.”
According to the American Cancer Society, if colon cancer is localized, or has not spread outside the colon or rectum, five-year survival rates are 91 percent. That drops to 72 percent if the cancer has spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes and to 14 percent if it has reached more distant areas like the lungs or liver.
That’s why earlier colonoscopies save lives, Dr. Baidoo said: “If we intercept the growth of polyps and remove them, the patient is less likely to develop cancer.”
Dr. Baidoo said the decision to lower the screening age to 45 came after new studies showed increasing rates of colon cancer among all people ages 50 and younger. The rates may be even higher among African American and Asian patients.
He said knowing your risk factors is important when it comes to colon cancer screening.
Average-risk patients should have a colonoscopy every 10 years through age 75. Between ages 76 and 85, patients should talk to their doctor about their screening needs. After age 85, screening is no longer recommended for most patients.
Dr. Baidoo said the initial colonoscopy helps him determine a patient’s screening needs, which he communicates to the patient immediately after the exam.
“If we don’t see anything, they can wait another 10 years. If we see polyps, the recommendation will depend on how big and how many. The bigger the polyps and the greater the number, the greater your risk for cancer and the sooner you need to come back for your next colonoscopy.”
Dr. Baidoo also sees patients who are at a higher risk for colon cancer due to a strong family or personal history, a personal history of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or a personal history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvis to treat a prior cancer.
These patients may need to start screening even before age 45, and they might require a colonoscopy every year or every other year.
“Talk to your health care provider about your risk factors and your screening needs,” he advised. “Colonoscopies are the best way to identify polyps before they turn into cancer, and to allow us to remove them as early as possible.”