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When should I be screened for colon cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. The disease typically produces no symptoms until it's in more advanced stages but screenings can detect the disease at earlier stages, when it's most treatable. Still, far too few people get screened.

If you're unsure about when you should start getting screened for colorectal cancer, this quiz can help clear up the confusion.

1. I have no symptoms and no family history so I don't need to be screened for colorectal cancer.

False
People at average risk of the disease should begin regular screenings at age 45, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Previous recommendations suggested screenings start at age 50 for people with average risk but research shows colorectal cancer rates are increasing in younger adults so the ACS revised their recommendations in 2018. However, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force still recommends screenings begin at age 50.
 
2. My brother had colon cancer so I should start screening earlier than the general recommendations.
 
True
People with a family history of colon cancer, especially an immediate relative, are considered to be at a higher than average risk for the disease. You should talk to your doctor about the best screening schedule to follow based on this and other risk factors.
 
3. I don't need a colonoscopy if I'm a woman because colorectal cancer mostly affects men.
 
False
Colorectal cancer affects men and women relatively equally. In 2015, the most recent statistics offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 73,947 new cases of colorectal cancer in men and 66,841 in women. Need any more convincing it's an equal-opportunity disease?
 
4. My ethnicity can affect the age I should first be screened for colorectal cancer.
 
True
African Americans have the highest rates of colon cancer in the U.S. and the highest rates of dying from the disease. If you are African-American, even if you don't have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you should begin screening earlier than the general recommended age.
 
5. I have Crohn's disease so I may need to be screened earlier.
 
True
Several risk factors can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer, such as a history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. If you are overweight, smoke or eat a diet low in fiber and high in saturated fat, those can all increase your risk as well. Discuss your risk factors with your doctor to determine the best time to begin screening.

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Date Last Reviewed: January 21, 2019
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD
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