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Q: At what age should I start getting a colonoscopy?

There's no doubt that screening can catch colorectal cancer in the early stages, increasing the chance of survival. Detection and removal of polyps, which are the typical precursor lesion to getting cancer, theoretically may prevent colon cancer entirely. Screening for colorectal cancer generally begins at age 50 for all average risk patients. You may have heard last year the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended age to 45, after studies found that these types of cancers are increasing in younger adults. While this has not yet been widely adopted, it does present an opportunity to have the discussion with your doctor.

There are several different tests to screen for colorectal cancer, and your doctor can recommend the best option for you. Some stool tests are recommended every year, while a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years. If you have an abnormal stool test, your doctor will want you to follow up with a colonoscopy.

These recommendations apply to people with average risk. If you've had abnormal tests or polyps before, if you have an inflammatory bowel disease, or if you have a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer, your doctor might recommend earlier or more frequent screening.