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how to know when you need a colon screening

It's worth making time in your schedule for an annual check-up. An important part of preventative health care, the annual check-up lets your doctor do routine health screenings which can spot potential health issues early. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment for a wide range of diseases.

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Colon screening is a perfect example. Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.

When is it time for a colon screening

The American Cancer Society believes that preventing colorectal cancer (and not just finding it early) should be a major reason for getting tested. Men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should start regular screening at age 50.

However, you may need to be tested earlier than 50 if:

  • You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)

Speak with your doctor about when you should begin screening and how often you should be tested.

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Types of colon screenings

There are two types of colon screenings: tests that find both polyps and cancer or tests that mainly find cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends tests that find polyps and cancer as the best way of preventing cancer. These tests - such as a colonoscopy - are done by looking at the colon itself for abnormalities. This is done with either a scope in the rectum or special imaging. 

Learn more about colonoscopies >>

Tests that do not look for polyps check the stool (feces) for signs of cancer. These tests are less invasive, but they are less likely to detect polyps.

If you are 50 years or older - or fall in the higher risk categories mentioned above - it's time to talk to your doctor about colon screenings. 

TOPICS: General surgery