A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

A colonoscopy is nifty at 50

Colon in the shape of "50" - Colonoscopies

Removing colon polyps with a colonoscopy, a direct examination of the colon, is the only way to prevent colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., and the second most common cancer among women and third among men.

Despite these statistics, one thing that can help stop colon cancer from developing is a colonoscopy.

Ninety percent of colon cancer is prevented by removing colon polyps with a colonoscopy, said Dr. Sabo Tanimu, a Marshfield Clinic gastroenterologist.

“Because colon cancer often develops from a polyp, then it is important for people to understand the significance of colonoscopies,” he said.

A colonoscopy is a direct examination of the colon to identify and remove colon polyps. Colon polyps are not actually cancer, but rather a sign that colon cancer may be coming. By removing colon polyps with a colonoscopy early, colon cancer cannot develop.

When you should get a colonoscopy

While everyone should have their first colonoscopy at age 50*, some should get it sooner.

If you have a family history of colon cancer in an immediate family member, you could get a colonoscopy as early as age 40 or 10 years younger than the age colon cancer was first found in that family member.

Having a condition, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, also could increase your risk for developing colon cancer. Tanimu said African Americans also have an increased risk of colon cancer, so should get a colonoscopy around age 45.

If you are concerned about your colon cancer risk, ask your doctor about the right age to get a colonoscopy.

After a colonoscopy

Colon polyps are examined to determine the type of polyps present.

Three things determine when and if you need another colonoscopy in the future including:

  • The number of polyps removed
  • Their size
  • What kind of polyp is present

Most people come back for another colonoscopy after three, five or 10 years depending on the severity.

In some instances when the doctor removes a large, flat polyp, you may need to repeat your colonoscopy in three to six months.

If you did not prep the colon correctly, you may need to repeat a colonoscopy after a year because it will not be as effective. Before the colonoscopy, you take a medication that helps the doctor see the colon lining better.

For more information about colonoscopies, talk with your provider.

*The American Cancer Society changed their colorectal cancer screening guidelines in 2018 and now recommends people with average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. Marshfield Clinic Health System continues to recommend screenings at age 50. If you are concerned about your risk of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about the right time for you to get a colonoscopy.

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