Who Needs a Colonoscopy and When?

No one loves the preparation for a colonoscopy, but by staying up to date on yours, you’re greatly reducing your risk of colon and rectal cancer, sometimes referred to collectively as colorectal cancer. Regular colonoscopies can catch these cancers early, when they’re easiest to treat, and can even prevent them altogether.

“As Gastroenterologists (GI doctors), we do our best to remind everyone how important a colonoscopy or other screening methods can be. Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more patients being diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age,” noted AAHPO member and Gastroenterologist Vahe Shahnazarian, MD MPH.

People who have no family history or symptoms of colorectal cancer should get their first colonoscopy at age 45, Dr. Shahnazarian said. That guideline has changed in recent years based on a troubling and so far unexplained trend of more young people being diagnosed with colon cancer.

“One common story I hear from patients or their family members is that they did not go for their colonoscopy because they felt fine and had no symptoms or complaints. However, the purpose of a screening procedure, like a colonoscopy, is to prevent the symptoms (and the cancer) from ever occurring. By the time you develop symptoms, we are typically dealing with an aggressive cancer, as opposed to either completely preventing the cancer or having a scenario with a much better outcome,” Dr. Shahnazarian observed.

Symptoms to call your doctor about include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, weight loss, a change in bowel habits, and anemia.

“For those who are just opposed to colonoscopy for whatever reason, there are non-procedural tests that can be done, such as the Cologuard stool test. While these tests are not as accurate as a colonoscopy, they are still good screening tests and are better than not being screened at all,” Dr. Shahnazarian said. “In short, please speak to your Gastroenterologist about when you should be screened and what options you have. And like all my patients say, when you have a colonoscopy, it will be the best sleep you’ve ever had!”

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