Quiz: What Age Should You Get a Colonoscopy?



Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States for men and women, and the risk of developing colon cancer is about 1 in 20. These statistics should make all of us pay attention. It is very clear that anyone can be affected by colon cancer, and the best way to prevent colon cancer is through regular screenings. But do you know at what age you should start getting screened for colon cancer? 

The age at which you should get your colonoscopy is sometimes known as your “colonoscopy age.” Adults who are at average risk for colon cancer should have a baseline colonoscopy at the age of 50 and every 10 years thereafter if the colonoscopy is clear, but age 50 is not the magic number for all people.

There are several risk factors that make some individuals more prone to colon cancer and therefore lower their colonoscopy age. For example:

  • Being of African American descent is one risk factor that lowers colonoscopy age.
    African Americans should be screened for colon cancer at age 45 because of higher incidence of colon cancer. 

  • Having a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps.
    About 5 to 10 percent of colon cancers are genetically linked. Therefore, someone who has a family history of colon cancer is more likely to have inherited the cancer gene than a person who has no family history of colorectal cancer.

  • Having a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling or child) with colon cancer or polyps puts you at higher risk.
    The rule of thumb is that if any first-degree relative was diagnosed with colon cancer or polyps, you should be screened 10 years before the youngest case in the immediate family. For example, if your mother was diagnosed at age 45 with colon cancer, you should have your first screening at age 35. Recent studies are showing that family history plays a more important role than previously thought.

Although age 50 is the suggested age for a baseline colonoscopy, talk to your doctor about what age is right for you. Don’t wait until age 50 to start asking questions. Especially if you are in a high-risk category, make an appointment to discuss options and timing. Colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, but it requires you to be proactive in your own health care.

In fact, when caught early, more than 90 percent of patients with early stage colon cancer survive longer than five years. Colonoscopy is the gold standard for cancer screening. Although there are several types of screening methods such as flexible sigmoidoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, double-contrast barium enema and fecal occult blood test, the colonoscopy is the most comprehensive test available and is the only one that can not only detect but prevent cancer.