Do You Really Need That Colonoscopy?

Man at colonoscopy appointment
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Most of us know about the importance of colorectal cancer screening: The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the American Cancer Society and the American College of Gastroenterology agree that routine screening colonoscopies should be performed every 10 years starting at age 50 for patients at average risk. But what if you're 79, in good health with no family history of colon disease? Do you really need another colonoscopy if you have one at 70?

For people between 76 and 85, screenings should be performed on a case-by-case basis, says the USPSTF. No screening is recommended for people over age 85. (The benefit of early cancer detection in the elderly is offset by the risk of complications, as patients with a life span of less than 10 years are unlikely to die from a newly diagnosed colon cancer at that age.)

Colon cancer has steadily declined over the past 15 years, and its directly associated with increased colonoscopies with polyp removal according to current screening guidelines, says Ilan Aharoni, MD, a gastroenterologist with AdventHealth Cancer Institute. Yet, only half of the appropriate population is screened. So, we strongly encourage adults over 50 who've never had a colonoscopy to seek out their physician and ask about screening options.

According to an article published in March in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, colon cancer rates have fallen by 30% over the past decade in people over age 50, and colonoscopies are getting much of the credit.

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