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45 is the Magic Number for Mammograms and Colonoscopies

Rachel Morrell

Breast cancer survivors smiling

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so schedule screenings like mammograms, colonoscopies and other preventative screenings before the end-of-year holiday rush.   

History of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women in the United States, regardless of race or ethnicity. About one in every eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.

The first initiative to increase awareness of breast cancer began in October 1985. Since then, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has been instrumental in educating men and women about the disease, as well as promoting screening for early detection and prevention.

All Women Should Have Mammogram by Age 45

Mammography has allowed for earlier detection of breast cancer when it is most treatable.  Recommendations for breast cancer screening have changed several times in the past decade. Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends all women begin annual breast cancer screening at 45, but women may choose to be screened earlier.

According to the ACS, “All women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45, and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. Women should have the choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40 if they want to.”

Colon Screenings Should Begin at 45

Just as mammograms help detect breast cancer in the early stages, colonoscopies detect early colon cancer when it is most treatable. Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States. This year, colon cancer is expected to cause 50,630 deaths.

Colon cancer screening has helped to reduce colon cancer incidence among adults over the age of 50, but colon cancer among younger adults is steadily increasing. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recently updated its guideline for colon cancer screening age. The new guideline recommends men and women at average risk for colon cancer should start regular screening at age 45 instead of age 50. 

Risk Factors May Lower Colon Cancer Screening Age

For those who are at increased or high risk for colon cancer, the ACS recommends colon screening before age 45, and possibly at shorter intervals. Risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of colon cancer or colon polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Family history of hereditary colon cancer syndrome (Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis)
  • Previous radiation to the abdomen to treat a prior cancer

Colonoscopy as the Best Screening

A colonoscopy is widely accepted as the gold standard for colon screenings because it is the only screening that has the capability to remove precancerous polyps before they develop into cancer. Therefore, colonoscopies actually prevent cancer. No other test can offer protective benefits against cancer.

Although many doctors would say the best test is the test that gets done, no other test is as comprehensive as colonoscopy. Other screenings like stool tests only have the ability to detect the presence of blood or cancer cells. A positive test result requires an immediate follow-up colonoscopy, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

The best colon cancer screening is colonoscopy for colon cancer detection and prevention. Click here to find a fellowship-trained gastroenterologist in your area. Our doctors are accepting new patients at conveniently located GI screening centers.

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