Does Family History Influence when I get my Colonoscopy?
Andrew Weinberg, D.O., is a gastroenterologist on staff at Banner Baywood Medical Center. His office can be reached at (480) 745-3690.
Question: I know it’s recommended that colon cancer screening start at age 50, but should I start earlier since my mother was diagnosed at age 46?
Answer: Yes, you should begin screening at age 36, ten years earlier than your mother’s age at diagnosis.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States with the average person having a five percent chance of getting it in his or her lifetime.
Current guidelines suggest that colorectal cancer screening generally begins at age 50. However, that recommendation is directed at individuals without increased risk factors such as a first-degree family member (e.g. mother, father, sibling or child) under age 60 who had adenomatous (precancerous) polyps or colon cancer. In addition, family history of certain non-colorectal cancers may also increase an individual’s risk.
Since precancerous polyps take about ten years to turn cancerous, individuals with a first-degree family connection to colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps diagnosed before age 60 are encouraged to begin screening ten years prior to when a polyp or cancer was first detected in the affected family member, or at age 40, whichever comes first. Thoroughly discuss your individual risk factors with your physician to determine when you should begin screening and which exam(s) are most appropriate.
Colonoscopy is a diagnostic exam that can also be therapeutic by removing precancerous polyps that are present during the procedure. Yet, poor understanding of the procedure itself, fear of discovery, and a lack of access to care for some individuals make it an underutilized tool. In fact, in 2010, colon cancer screening was only performed on about 65 percent of people age 50 to 75 who, based on general guidelines, should have been screened.
There are other colon cancer screening options, but colonoscopy is the only one that removes precancerous polyps. Good prep (clean out) before a colonoscopy is critical to ensuring a quality exam. It is recommended that the average risk patient undergo a screening colonoscopy once every ten years. Individuals at higher risk may require shorter screening intervals.
Colon cancer is treatable and may often be cured if caught early. Consult a gastroenterologist to determine your individual risk, recommended screening timeline, and exam options.