Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Screenings should start at age 45

Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Screenings should start at age 45

KDMC colon cancer article

   Colon cancer screenings save lives. In fact, an estimated 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with timely screening. So, when should you start the screening process? It is now recommended that colon cancer screening begin at age 45—or possibly younger if you have a family history.

   More than likely, you’ve heard of the colonoscopy as a screening tool for colon cancer. It is, after all, known as the “gold standard” of testing. Colonoscopies are recommended every five to 10 years for those at average to low risk. During the test, a physician (usually a gastroenterologist or general surgeon) uses a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and colon.

   “A colonoscopy is the most thorough screening option available, as it allows a physician to view your entire colon,” said King’s Daughters Digestive Health Nurse Navigator Deena Stewart, RN, CGRN, BSN. “The physician can remove any polyps that are found as well as some cancerous lesions.”

   If you’re not at high risk for colon cancer, there are a few at-home screening options available, including one called the FIT test and another that looks for DNA in the stool. FIT tests must be performed annually and use antibodies to detect blood, which can be an early sign of cancer. Stool DNA tests must be performed every three years and detect DNA markers associated with colon cancer and blood in the sample. 

   A positive FIT or stool DNA test will require a follow-up colonoscopy.

   “Colon cancer is currently the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States, but the good news is that the disease is preventable, treatable and beatable,” said Stewart. “Early detection is key, so the best screening is the one you get done.”

Family History

   Family history plays a large role when determining when you should be screened for colon cancer. About a third of all colorectal cancers in the U.S. are diagnosed in people who have a close relative – mother, father, sister, brother – who have been diagnosed with the disease. And the risk increases as the number of affected relatives goes up.

   Another risk factor? Age at diagnosis. If that relative was diagnosed before the age of 50 – the personal risk is even greater.

   If you have a parent, sibling or two secondary relatives (grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.) who have/had colon cancer or precancerous polyps (adenomas), subtract 10 years from their age of diagnosis to determine when you should be screened. For example, if your mom was screened at 47 and they found adenomas, you will need to get screened by 37.

   “Family history isn’t the only potential risk factor, so it’s important to talk with your provider to determine if early screening is necessary,” said Stewart.

   For more information or to schedule a colon cancer screening, call King’s Daughters Digestive Health at 606.408.8200. Screenings are covered by most insurances for those 45 and older. A referral is not required for screening colonoscopy.

   King’s Daughters also offers a free online Colon Cancer Risk Assessment at to help patients evaluate their personal risk for colon cancer.

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