The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends screening for colon cancer to begin at age 50 for those of average risk. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) agrees.
The quickest and simplest test is to check for blood in the stool. This may not be visible to you. For years doctors have used a chemical test both in the office and for home use, but recently we have replaced the home testing with the more accurate fecal immunochemical test (FIT). These are dispensed to you at the time of your annual comprehensive evaluation. The brand name you will see is typically “Ensure”
Both agencies suggest this be done yearly after age 50.
Both agencies also recommend a colonoscopy, which involves inserting a tube in the rectum and directly looking at the inside of the large bowel, starting at age 50. If negative, it is repeated every 10 years until you and your doctor decide to no longer have the test done. We refer to specialists to have this exam performed.
The American Cancer Society also recommends as an alternative a flexible sigmoidoscopy, done with a shorter tube and without anesthesia, every 5 years, or a Barium enema every 5 years. However, with the popularity of colonoscopy these are done less often.
Should you have close family members who have had colon cancer at an early age, it is recommended that screening begin when you are 10 years younger than the person was when they were diagnosed with colon cancer.
Should you have a polyp found at colonoscopy, the gastroenterology specialist will usually recommend that you return for another colonoscopy at a shorter interval, usually 3 to 5 years.
The US Preventive Services Task force recommends stopping colon cancer screening after age 85 and individualizing recommendations between the ages of 75 and 85 depending on personal preference, general health status, and discussion with your doctor.