Family History of Colon Cancer? Get Screened Early

Rachel Morrell

Family History of Colon Cancer? Get Screened Early

Are you familiar with your family health history? If colon cancer runs in your family, it could affect your colon cancer screening age – the age at which you should get screened for the disease.

Family History and Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States. Most colon cancer develops independently, but five to ten percent of colon cancers have a genetic component. Therefore, family history is a significant risk factor in developing colon cancer. If you have a first-degree relative who had colon cancer, you should be screened ten years before the age at which they were diagnosed (or at age 45, whichever is earlier).

According to a new study examining adults aged 40 to 49, most cases of colon cancer could have been discovered earlier if patients had been screened using family history-based screening guidelines.

Samir Gupta, MD, of the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the University of San Diego, and other researchers analyzed data on patients between the ages of 40 and 49. Among the patients, 2,473 had colon cancer, and 772 did not. The researchers determined 25 percent of patients with colon cancer and 10 percent of patients without colon cancer qualified for earlier screening based on family history. Over 98 percent of patients with colon cancer who met the requirements should have been screened at a younger age than they were at cancer diagnosis.

“Our findings suggest that using family history-based criteria to identify individuals for earlier screening is justified and has promise for helping to identify individuals at risk for young-onset colorectal cancer," explained Gupta. "We have an opportunity to improve early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer under age 50 if patients more consistently collect and share their family history of colorectal cancer, and healthcare providers more consistently elicit and act on family history" (Medical Xpress).

What is Your Colon Cancer Screening Age?

If colon cancer runs in your family, talk with your doctor about your colon cancer screening age. Due to increased screening measures and compliance, colon cancer incidence among adults over 50 is declining. This is good news, indeed. However, young-onset colon cancer continues to rise. Recently, the American Cancer Society changed its recommendation for baseline colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45 for all adults at average risk for colon cancer.

Many insurance companies will not cover colon cancer screening until 50, but talk with your provider about getting tested anyway. Even if your insurance company does not cover the exam, it is worth your time and money if it prevents cancer.

Are you due for a colon cancer screening but don’t know where to begin? Click here to locate a fellowship-trained gastroenterologist in your area and schedule a consultation.

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