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When to get screened for colon cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
March is colorectal cancer awareness month. ACP issues new screening guidelines.

Routine screening for colorectal cancer can save lives from early diagnosis and treatment. The American College of Physicians (ACP) has issued new guidelines for colorectal cancer screening that includes adults at moderate and high risk.

Most people should be checked for colorectal cancer at age 50. But if a close relative developed cancer of the colon or rectum at a younger age, the physician's group says earlier screening is appropriate.

Virginia L. Hood, MBBS, MPH, FACP, president of ACP said in a press release, "Only about 60 percent of American adults aged 50 and older get screened, even though the effectiveness of colorectal cancer screening in reducing deaths is supported by the available evidence."

Even though the general recommendation is to screen for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50, the ACP says it's important for physicians to perform screening tests in high risk adults at age 40 or 10 years younger than the age that a family relative developed cancer.

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Adults at average risk should have a colonoscopy at age 50 and then every 10 years. Each year, a fecal occult blood test should be performed (FOBT) and every 5 years a sigmoidoscopy, virtual colonoscopy or double contrast barium enema is recommended.

Colonoscopy over age 75 or for those whose life expectancy is less than 10 years is not recommended because of the potential for bleeding and colon perforation associated with the test that could do more harm than good.

Speak with your doctor about which option is best for you. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Symptoms don’t appear until the disease is advanced.

Changes in bowel habits that include persistent constipation, diarrhea, and blood in the stool, weight loss, bloating, fatigue and anemia are symptoms of colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer often occurs in people without a family history of the disease. If you have had colon cancer and it's been removed, you are at risk for developing new cancers of the colon and rectum.

Annals of Internal Medicine
Summaries for Patients
“Screening for Colorectal Cancer: A Guidance Statement From the American College of Physicians”
A. Qaseem, T.D. et al.
March 6, 2012

American Cancer Society
"Colorectal Cancer Early Detection"
Updated 3/2/2012