When we talk about colon screening, patients almost inevitably think we’re talking about the men in their lives. However, colon screening is important for both men and women, and there are a number of factors that go into determining when you should start getting regular colonoscopies. Typically, the age when you should begin receiving them is 50, however there are other factors to consider, such as:
Ethnicity: Hispanic men have statistically had a higher occurrence of colon cancer, and should begin getting checked at age 45.
Family History: In the instance that you have a family history, you should begin getting checked 10 years prior to the age of first occurrence of colon cancer in your family. If your family member developed it at 35? Start getting checked at 25.
Genetic Factors: These constitute those outside of family history, including Lynch Syndrome, FAP, etc. If you experience a related condition, speak to your doctor about when you should begin screenings.
Personal History: If you have a personal history with cancer, or ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or inflammatory bowel disease, speak to your doctor about getting screen prior to 50.
Experiencing Symptoms: Get to a doctor immediately for a screening.
Over 50: Get screened regularly, no matter what.
What Will My Screening Be Like?
Most people are familiar with the digital rectal exam, where your doctor inserts a lubed finger into your rectum to look for polyps and other signs of cancer. This isn’t suggested as a stand-alone test for screening in cases where cancer is suspected or there are pre-existing conditions associated with cancer. In those cases one of the following procedures may be used:
This test involves the use of a sigmoidoscope to explore the various parts of the colon and rectum. The tube is approximately the size of a finger and tips with a lighted camera, and is inserted in the anus. The views from the camera are displayed on a screen where the doctor can observe the condition of your rectum and lower colon. This test isn’t commonly used to look for cancer, but is an option.
A colonoscopy is specifically designed for observing and sampling suspicious polyps within the colon. It is essentially a longer version of the sigmoidoscope, but comes with the added ability to pass instruments through the sigmoidoscope to sample tissue. This is a commonly used tool in cancer assessment.
These are the most common tests that involve the use of a scope of some kind. Additional forms of testing involve taking stool samples that will be analyzed for various indicators. Some of the tests are performed yearly, and others occur only when needed. The Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is commonly done each year.
Colon cancer is a serious condition, but it is typically treatable when discovered in the earliest stages. Regular colon screening is a vital part of maintaining a long and healthy life. If you have indicators of colon cancer or are above the age appropriate for you to be screened, start getting regular screenings immediately.