Are You Up to Date on Your Colon Cancer Screening?

Getting screened with a colonoscopy beginning at age 45 is essential for health and longevity.

a female patient consults with a female doctor; closeup shot that shows just the patient and doctor's hands

Updated on October 12, 2023.

Not looking forward to your next colonoscopy? You’re not alone. Few people are thrilled to have their colons probed and examined. Perhaps that “eww” factor is why, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 30 percent of U.S. adults aren’t up to date on their screening for colon cancer and nearly 22 percent have never been screened at all.

When I heard this, I thought of my best friend.

Because of her family history—her mother had colon cancer and beat it—my friend knew she was at risk. Most guidelines say that people should begin having colonoscopies at age 45 and possibly earlier if colon cancer runs in the family.

My friend knew all that. But with three young kids and a busy household to run—and besides, she had no symptoms—she put off the colonoscopy for a couple of years. By the time she got around to having it, the cancer had already spread to her liver. Six months later, my happy, fun-loving, always-in-control friend died. She was 47.

Heartbreaking? Yes. Especially because it didn’t have to happen. Research has shown that colon cancer screening with colonoscopy may contribute to a 69 percent decrease in new cases of colorectal cancer—and as much as an 88 percent reduction in the risk of death from the disease. And there’s more good news about colonoscopies:

The prep is not as bad as you think

Having a colonoscopy once meant having to swallow a gallon of foul-tasting stuff the day before—while staying close to a bathroom afterward. Now there are other options, including split dosages and laxatives in pill form that make the prep easier to handle.

They work

According to data from the National Cancer Institute, death rates from colorectal cancer have been falling by 2 percent on average each year between 2011 and 2020, in large part because of screening tools, including colonoscopies.

Is it time to schedule your colonoscopy? Do it today.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use of Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests. Last Reviewed: March 22, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adults Who Have Never Been Screened for Colorectal Cancer, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2012 and 2020. GIS SNAPSHOTS — Volume 19 — April 21, 2022.
Kowalkowski, Henrik MS; Austin, George MS; Guo, Yinglong MS; Miller-Wilson, Lesley-Ann PhD, MS, MBA; Byfield, Stacey MPH, PhD; Verma, Prat MS, MBA; Housman, Laura MPH, MBA; Berke, Ethan MD, MPH. S323 Colorectal Cancer Screening and Adherence Rates Among Average Risk Population Enrolled in a National Health Insurance Provider During 2009-2018. The American Journal of Gastroenterology 116():p S140, October 2021.
Ladabaum U, Dominitz JA, Kahi C, Schoen RE. Strategies for Colorectal Cancer Screening. Gastroenterology. 2020;158(2):418-432.
Pasricha, Trisha, MD, MPH. How well do colonoscopies prevent colorectal cancer? What you need to know. Harvard Health Publishing. October 18, 2022.
National Cancer Institute. Cancer Stat Facts: Colorectal Cancer. Accessed October 12, 2023.
American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer. Last Revised: January 13, 2023.

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