How Often You Really Need To Get A Colonoscopy

Some of us have an idea of what happens when we get a colonoscopy. However, many of us lack an understanding of the significant role it plays in cancer prevention, as well as its effectiveness at catching cancer in the early stages. This may be due to a general misconception that colonoscopies are only for older populations of people. 

Colon/colorectal cancer rates are on the rise for individuals younger than 50. As a result, national guidelines now recommend that average-risk Americans begin getting colonoscopies at age 45 and every 10 years until age 75 (via the American Cancer Society). Upon turning 76, continued colonoscopies should be discussed with a doctor, and those over 85 are no longer recommended to get them. A systematic review that included 6 observational studies concluded that there was a 69% reduction in colorectal/colon cancer incidence and a 68% reduction in colorectal/colon cancer mortality associated with colonoscopies (via The American Journal of Gastroenterology).

What to do if you are at high risk of colon cancer

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a steep decline in cancer screenings, and doctors saw a surge in more advanced cancer cases. For colon cancer, in particular, colonoscopies not only detect cancer in early stages but help prevent polyps and precancerous growths from turning into cancer (via The American Journal of Gastroenterology). This is especially important for those with a high risk of colon/colorectal cancer. Not only is the risk of developing cancer higher, but cancer may develop faster than it would in an average-risk person (1-2 years, versus 10 years), according to the Cleveland Clinic

As a result, screenings shouldn't just start at a younger age, but they should be conducted more frequently. Some high-risk individuals begin colonoscopy screenings as early as 20 and get them every 1-2 years. High-risk populations include those with a strong family history of colon/colorectal cancer or polyps, those who have had colorectal/colon cancer before, those with inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, and those with hereditary cancer predispositions, like Lynch Syndrome (via American Cancer Society). If any of these factors apply to you, speak with a gastroenterologist or oncology specialist as soon as possible to determine when and how often to get colonoscopies.