Ask for Early Colon Cancer Screening Based on Your Family History

If colon cancer runs in your family, it could affect your colon cancer screening age – the age when you should begin getting screened for the disease.

How Family History Affects Colon Cancer

About one in every twenty-five adults will develop colon cancer, making it the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Most colon cancer develops independently, but five to ten percent of colon cancers have a genetic component. Therefore, family history is is a significant risk factor in developing colon cancer. If you have a first-degree relative who has had colon cancer, you should be screened at age 40 or ten years before he or she was diagnosed, whichever is earlier.

According to a new study examining adults aged 40 to 49, most cases of colon cancer could have been discovered earlier if patients were screened using family history-based screening guidelines.

Samir Gupta, MD, of the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the University of San Diego, and other researchers analyzed data on patients between the ages of 40 and 49. Among the patients, 2,473 had colon cancer and 772 did not. Dr. Gupta determined 25 percent of patients with colon cancer and 10 percent of patients without cancer qualified for earlier screening based on family history. Over 98 percent of patients with colon cancer who met the requirements should have gotten screened at a younger age than they were at cancer diagnosis.

“Our findings suggest that using family history-based criteria to identify individuals for earlier screening is justified and has promise for helping to identify individuals at risk for young-onset colorectal cancer,” explained Dr. Gupta. “We have an opportunity to improve early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer under age 50 if patients more consistently collect and share their family history of colorectal cancer, and healthcare providers more consistently elicit and act on family history” (Medical Xpress).

Your Colon Cancer Screening Age

If colon cancer runs in your family, talk to your gastroenterologist about your colon cancer screening age. Due to increased screening measures and compliance, colon cancer incidence among adults over 50 is declining. This is good news, indeed. However, young-onset colon cancer continues to rise. Recently, the American Cancer Society lowered its recommended age for baseline colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45 for all adults at average risk for colon cancer.

Many insurance companies will not cover colon cancer screening until 50, but talk to your doctor about getting tested anyway. Even if your insurance company does not cover the exam, it is worth your time and money if it prevents cancer.

Know the Symptoms of Colon Cancer

You are never too young for colon cancer, so it is essential to know the symptoms of the disease. Make an appointment with your gastroenterologist right away if you experience:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Anemia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss