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 When should I get a colonscopy?


John Harlan, MD is a gastroenterologist at Page Hospital in Page, Ariz.

Question: I hear a lot about colon cancer but I don't know much about it. When should I get checked?

Answer: Colorectal cancer, also referred to as colon cancer, is the third most common cancer diagnosis among men and women and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

It is largely preventable with regular screening and is curable with early detection.

Each year more than 140,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. and over 50,000 people die from it annually.

We know that screening and early detection saves lives. A study by leading cancer groups states that deaths from colorectal cancer in the U.S. are down nearly 5 percent. This decrease is credited to prevention through screening and removal of precancerous polyps. A study published this year has shown for the first time that colonoscopy does save lives.

Colon cancer is a silent killer, meaning that by the time symptoms occur the cancer is usually in the advanced disease stage. Symptoms of colon cancer include blood in the stool, unexplained anemia, abdominal pain, and change in bowel movement or caliber of the stool.

There are several ways to screen for colon cancer including yearly stool studies screening for blood, flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, x-ray studies with either an air contrast barium enema or a virtual colonoscopy every 5 years or colonoscopy every 10 years.

Age is the single most important risk factor for colon cancer. Both men and women should undergo testing starting at age 50.

Certain diseases such as ulcerative colitis or a family history of a first degree family member (parent, sibling or child) increase risk and can be associated with earlier onset of colon cancer leading to recommendation for screening starting at earlier age.

Page Last Modified: 03/02/2012
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