When we are young and seemingly healthy, routine medical screenings are normally not on our radar. There are many conditions that most of us think of as only affecting older people, such as colorectal cancer.
Medical professionals worldwide have seen increases in the rate of colon cancer in younger people and a decline in cases in older adults. This is due to the increase in awareness of the disease and more adults undergoing the recommended colonoscopy screenings for their age.
In many instances, colorectal cancer can be prevented if precancerous polyps or other signs are caught early and treated. These precancerous markers can be identified and often eliminated during a colonoscopy. But what is the recommended age for a colonoscopy? What age should a woman get a colonoscopy? Should I get a colonoscopy at age 40? Today we are going to answer these questions and provide an overview of the importance of screening for colorectal cancer.
How Common Is Colorectal Cancer?
This disease is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States and worldwide for both men and women (besides the many types of skin cancer).
It is estimated that in 2022, 151,030 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed. 106,180 of these will be colon cancer. See the colorectal statistics chart for 2022 below to see the breakdowns.
Most of us think colorectal cancer is a condition that occurs in old men, but that is not true. It is true that the disease affects more men than women, but you can see from the chart above that the margin of difference is only around 10%.
Who Is More At Risk For Colon Cancer?
Age is a significant factor, and the older you are, the more likely you are to develop colon cancer. That being said, the risk factors are more complicated than just age, and the rate of colorectal cancer in young adults has risen steadily over the years in the U.S. and is currently the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer for both genders between the ages of 30 and 39.
Experts do not have a clear understanding of the factors driving the increase in colon cancer among younger adults. What they do know is that this younger group, even those in their 20s and 30s, need to recognize this disease, the risks and that if it is caught early, it can be treated. When this type of cancer is not treated in the early stages, the treatments are harsher, and the patient’s prognosis is less than desirable.
What Factors Put A Person More At Risk For Colorectal Cancer?
With the increasing incidence of colon cancer in young adults, it is clear that there are more risk factors at work than just their age.In 2020 alone, in the U.S., approximately 12% of new colorectal cases occurred in patients under 50 years of age. (Approximately 18,000 cases) Here are some of the known risk factors for colorectal cancer:
- Gender: Regardless of their age, men have a higher risk than women;
- Ethnicity: African Americans have a 20% higher risk of experiencing colorectal cancer, regardless of gender;
- A history of colorectal cancer or polyps in your family;
- If you have medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome);
- If you have or have a family history of Lynch syndrome, Gardner’s syndrome, or FAP (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis);
- Sedentary Lifestyle;
- Your food choices and diet can put you at increased risk;
- Smoking/tobacco use.
What Are Some Symptoms I Should Be Aware Of?
Since colorectal cancer can affect anyone, it is important to understand the symptoms that might signal this condition.
The two biggest symptoms of colorectal cancer are stools that are darker than normal or contain blood and rectal bleeding. There are other conditions that can cause these symptoms as well, but you should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can so the underlying cause can be determined. Other symptoms that are often subtle include:
- Overall fatigue;
- Pain or cramping in the abdomen;
- Changes in the texture of your stool or bowel habits (changes in color, frequency, consistency, etc.);
- Unexplained weight loss.
If you have a family history or increased risk of colorectal cancer, make sure to mention any abnormal symptoms to your doctor. It is better to err on the side of caution. Even if you are not at high risk but are experiencing any of these general symptoms, it is still advisable to see your doctor and get checked out.
The internet is full of stories written by patients in their 20s who were experiencing some of these symptoms and did have colorectal cancer. One such young person did seek medical treatment out of concern over rectal bleeding but was misdiagnosed twice. By the time the true cause was determined, he was in stage 3 of colon cancer.
If you are concerned about the symptoms you are experiencing, make an appointment with a gastroenterologist and not only your primary doctor.
At What Age Should You Get A Colonoscopy?
It is important to understand that even if you feel great and are young, especially if any of these risk factors apply, you should take steps now to eliminate any that you can. Establish an immediate relationship with a gastrointestinal specialist so that they can determine the best age for your first colonoscopy and also monitor your health.
- The recommended age for a colonoscopy has recently been lowered by the American Cancer Society from 50 to 45 for those with no other accompanying risk factors. If you are in good health, screenings should be repeated every 10 years until you turn 75 unless your doctor recommends otherwise;
- If you have a first-degree family member (parent or sibling) who had a history of colorectal cancer before the age of 60, start screenings 10 years before the age your relative was when they were diagnosed, or have your first colonoscopy at age 40, whichever is younger;
- Screenings after the age of 76 are usually determined by factors such as overall health and are left to the doctor’s discretion.
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What To Expect When You Get A Colonoscopy
Once you have reached the recommended colonoscopy screening age, you may feel a sense of dread because of all the things you’ve heard about the procedure. The truth is, the procedure itself is not really that bad; it’s the process of having to clean out your colon the night before that people really dislike.
While this part is certainly not fun, it sure does beat the alternative of being diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer.
A Quick Overview Of The Colonoscopy Process
- Your doctor will give you instructions about changing some of your dietary habits up to a week before your procedure;
- The part that most people consider the worst is having to take a laxative the night before to flush out the colon. Follow the instructions provided to you by your doctor about how to perform your cleanse, as it is a vital part of ensuring accurate results. You might just want to set up camp in the bathroom because you will be spending a lot of time there during your cleanse;
- Once you arrive at the facility for your exam, your vital signs will be recorded, and you will change into a medical gown. The gastroenterologist will ask you some questions to determine if your colon is clean enough to examine;
- Once in the procedure room, you will lay down on your left side and be given an IV sedative that will make you fall asleep; (Most patients don’t remember anything about the procedure)
- Gastroenterologists will use a thin, flexible device that has a light and a camera attached. This is carefully guided into your rectum and through your colon, giving the doctor a clear view of the inside surface. If any polyps are encountered, they are normally removed during this procedure, and if anything suspicious shows up, they will normally take a sample of the tissue for a biopsy;
- The procedure normally takes between 20 and 45 minutes, and then you will wake up and remain in a recovery room for a short while. Normally, while you’re in recovery, the doctor will come and give you a high-level overview of what was seen during the exam. If you were clear, you’re set for the next ten years. If polyps were found or another tissue was taken to be further investigated, you will have to wait for those results and you may be given further directions;
- Once you are released, you will need someone to drive you home because you will be groggy from the sedative for a few hours. You may experience some bloating, cramping, or gas while you are recovering at home. It is also normal to experience some minor bleeding from the rectum, but it should not last past a few days. You will be given instructions on what to look for in terms of complications and who to contact if any arise.
Catching colorectal cancer early can save your life. When it is caught in more advanced stages, it is very hard to treat, and sometimes the only thing medical professionals can do is try to relieve the patient’s symptoms. When it is caught early, it can often be removed, or precancerous polyps can be removed before they can become an issue.
Remember that the colonoscopy screening age can be different for everybody because even younger adults can be diagnosed with advanced cases of colon cancer. Do everything you can to stay healthy and live longer; your family deserves to have you around!
If you would like to find out if you are the right age for a colonoscopy or learn more about the procedure, contact IBI Healthcare Institute. Our compassionate team of medical professionals can answer your questions and address any concerns you may have.
You can visit IBI Healthcare Institute at one of their convenient locations in Georgia or Florida and have your colonoscopy screening completed. Contact us today.