At what age should I get tested for colon cancer?

Dr. Donald Petroski, MD

Experts recommend men and women begin testing for colon cancer at age 50. Blacks should begin screenings at age 45. For those with a prior or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, screenings should begin earlier—at age 40 or 10 years before the family member had the disease, whichever is sooner.

Early on, colorectal cancer does not cause any symptoms, so many people don't go to the doctor until their disease has reached a late stage. Colon screening can detect cancer early, when it is most treatable.

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You should be screened for colon cancer after age 50. People with family history of cancer should be tested at age 40.

The average age people should start screening for colorectal cancer is age 50. Depending on your family and personal history, you may need to start screening earlier.

The recommended age for your first test for colon cancer, or colonoscopy, is 50. However, if you are having symptoms or have family history of colorectal cancer you should get tested earlier. Early detection is key to curing colorectal cancer.

Standard guidelines recommend having a colonoscopy to screen for colon and rectal cancer when you turn 50. If everything looks hunky dory, you probably won't need a return engagement for another 10 years. If your doctor detects abnormal growths called polyps, which can become cancer, you'll need more frequent colonoscopies.

Having this procedure on schedule can be a lifesaver. One study found that people who underwent routine colonoscopies cut their risk for dying of colon cancer by more than 50%.

In patients with no gastrointestinal problems and no risk factors for colon cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends a first screening colonoscopy at age 50.

However, if you have bowel symptoms such as blood in your stool or a significant change in your bowel movements or their frequency, you should see a doctor right away. If you have any risk factors for colon cancer such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or a family history of colon cancer, your doctor may want to order the colonoscopy long before you turn 50. If a member of your immediate family, such as a sibling or a parent has had colon cancer, you should begin screening at least 10 years before the age your relative was when diagnosed. The frequency of colonoscopy is determined based on your risk factors and whether or not you have polyps on your colonoscopy. In the average-risk patient with a normal colonoscopy, the test is repeated every 5-10 years.

Dr. Jill K. Onesti, MD
Surgical Oncologist

If you have no family history of colon cancer and have no symptoms, you should begin testing at age 50. Screening usually consists of a colonoscopy, but alternatively can be accomplished by testing for blood in your stools. A colonoscopy allows a doctor to see inside the entire length of your colon, and remove any polyps that have the potential to become a cancer in the future. Colon and rectal cancers can be very treatable if caught early on. If you have a family history of colon cancer, talk with your doctor about how soon to begin screening exams. A good rule of thumb is to begin a screening exam at 10 years younger than the age your family member was when he or she was diagnosed.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Dr. Cedrek L. McFadden, MD
Colorectal Surgeon

In general, screening for colorectal cancer with colonoscopy begins at 50 years old. However, screening begins earlier if there are symptoms of colorectal cancer present or if there is a family history of colorectal cancers or polyps. Screening involves a painless procedure called a colonoscopy to detect precancerous polyps before they become harmful.

Despite major advances in screening and early detection, colon cancer still accounts for about 9% of all cancer deaths. Rare before the age of 40, colon cancer incidence begins to increase each decade thereafter.

Screening for colon cancer should begin at age 50 for those at average risk and continue for as long as a person is healthy enough to benefit. It may not be recommended after age 75. Despite its proven effectiveness, colon cancer screening remains underutilized in older adults.

Higher-risk individuals—those with a family history of colon cancer, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease—should consider starting screening earlier and choose colonoscopy over the other methods because of its greater likelihood of detecting disease at an early stage.

Screening for colorectal cancer should begin at age 50 for those with no identified risk factor other than age. People with a family history or other risk factors should talk to their doctor about starting screening when they are younger.

The recommended age for the general population to begin getting screened for colon cancer is 50. However, if a brother, sister or parent developed colon cancer prior to the age of 55, you should get screened at least 10 years before the age when that relative was first diagnosed with colon cancer. If you have any concerns about when you should be tested, based on your personal and family medical history, ask your primary care doctor for advice. In addition, if you have any symptoms that could indicate you have colorectal cancer, you should see your doctor so appropriate tests can be ordered promptly.

Colon cancer is very curable when detected early. Talk with your doctor about which test is right for you. Generally, most men should have their first colon cancer screening at age 50. If there is a family history of colon cancer, or other risk factors, screenings may be recommended sooner or more frequently.

Dr. Daniel M. Labow, MD
Surgical Oncologist

If you don’t have a family history or worrisome symptoms of colon caner, you should begin testing at age 50; however, if you have a family history of the disease or worrisome symptoms like bleeding from the rectum or difficulty with bowel movements, you should be screened earlier.

Some young people are at risk for colon cancer. A lot depends on certain genetic syndromes or other colon conditions like inflammatory bowel disease that can increase risk. If you have these conditions, please check with your doctor to see if you should be tested.

General guidelines for people without a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps are to start at age 50. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, African-American descent, with family history, or with a personal history should start earlier. Generally, high-risk groups start at age 40. The exception is African-Americans, who should start at 45. If, however, a close relative was diagnosed very young (below 50), it would not make sense to wait until you were 40. In these instances, the rule of thumb is to get screened ten years younger than the age of your family member with colon cancer at diagnosis.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Screening for colorectal cancer should be done as follows:

  • If you are 50, undergo an endoscopic procedure, preferably a screening colonoscopy.
  • If you have personal risk factors such as colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps detected in a first-degree relative before age 60, begin screening sooner (typically at age 40).
  • Continue getting a colonoscopy every 10 years; or a flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema or virtual colonoscopy every five years; and a fecal occult blood test every year.
  • If you have had a polyp detected and removed, get screening colonoscopy more frequently as recommended by your doctor.
  • If you don't have insurance, or your insurance won't cover the costs, locate a free or low-cost screening program in your area via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC's) Colorectal Cancer Control Program.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.