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Don’t Think You Need a Colonoscopy In Your 40s? Think Again

couple hugging happy to get a colonoscopy at age 45

Many Americans were shocked when “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer. After all, the 43-year-old actor was far too young to develop the disease, wasn’t he? Here’s why you may need a colonoscopy at a younger age than you think.

Colonoscopy Screening at Age 45

Boseman was just one of the thousands of younger people with colon cancer in the U.S. every year. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), colorectal cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in people under 50.

Fortunately, screening tests can help doctors find cancerous or pre-cancerous growths in the colon long before any symptoms appear. That likely wouldn’t have helped Boseman. He got his diagnosis before the age when experts recommend routine screenings. Still, it's one reason the recommended age for starting routine colonoscopies has been lowered in recent years.

Why Are Colonoscopies So Important?

Fewer older Americans are dying of colorectal cancer, thanks to the availability of screening colonoscopies. But younger people aren’t quite so lucky.

According to the NCI, the colon cancer rate in younger people has more than doubled in the last 30 years. This prompted the American Cancer Society® to lower its recommended age for first colonoscopy from age 50 to 45 in 2018.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force followed suit in late 2020. They pushed for updated guidelines that would lower the suggested age of first colonoscopies to 45.

Colon cancer rarely causes symptoms at first. You may feel perfectly fine even as cancerous cells begin to attack the lining of your rectum or large intestine (colon). By the time you begin to experience any symptoms, the cancer may be quite advanced. Common symptoms of colon cancer are:

Benefits of a Lower Age for Colonoscopies

Lowering the age of the first colonoscopy offers these important benefits.

Identification of Pre-Cancerous Polyps

During a colonoscopy, your doctor may remove polyps, which are small growths in your rectum or colon. Polyps can be benign (non-cancerous), pre-cancerous or cancerous. Removing benign and pre-cancerous polyps prevents the growths from ever becoming cancerous. This lowers your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Earlier Cancer Detection

The sooner you get a diagnosis, the better the outcome. Diagnosing and treating colon cancer early prevents it from spreading. It also increases the survival rate.

Get A Colon Cancer Screening

You have multiple screening options. Talk to your doctor about the right one for you.

How Do Colonoscopies Work?

Colonoscopies allow your doctor to view the lining of your rectum and colon without performing surgery. During the procedure, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible probe into your rectum, then slowly passes it through your large intestine with a miniature camera. This attachment to the end of the probe sends images to a digital monitor.

During a colonoscopy, doctors look for lesions, bleeding areas, polyps, and changes in the lining of the rectum and colon. If your doctor spots a polyp, he or she will remove it and send it to a laboratory for testing. Samples of lesions or bleeding tissue may also be removed for analysis.

If your colonoscopy doesn’t reveal any issues, you won’t need another test for 10 years. If the surgery team discovers a polyp or other concerning change, they may instruct you to repeat colonoscopies more often, such as every 3 or 5 years.

Are You at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?

Although anyone can get colorectal cancer at any age, you may be more likely to develop the disease if you:

Scheduling a colonoscopy is a simple way to protect your health. If you’re 45 or older and haven’t yet had a colonoscopy, consider adding this valuable screening test to your calendar this year.

If you have certain risk factors or any possible symptoms of colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend you begin screenings at a younger age.

View Transcript
Transcript: Mark Lorenzoni: I did it.

Jonathan Bartels: I did it.

Andrew Baxter: I did it.

Will Cooke: I did it.

Tim Longo: I did it.

Olivia Branch: I did it.

Jim Ryan: I did it.

Norman Tillman: I did it.

Tom Loughran: I did it.

Stacy True: I did it.

Andrew Baxter: My wife and I scheduled our colonoscopies a week apart and went and got it done.

Jim Ryan: My law school roommate, and one of my closest friends, passed away from colon cancer. And I was 49 at the time, and I thought it was time to get tested.

Will Cooke: One of the contributing factors to my father's death was colon cancer, and since it is hereditary, I wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself.

Olivia Branch: I have colon cancer in my family.

Mark Lorenzoni: I think we're always afraid of the realities of the unknown.

Jonathan Bartels: My sister had been diagnosed, and she encouraged us to get checked. The colonoscopy prep was just fabulous, not.

Jim Ryan: The prep was liberating.

Mark Lorenzoni: It wasn't that bad, it was just, you know, you have to drink a lot of it. I think it was like a lemony-type taste.

Tim Longo: Not a very pleasant taste.

Tom Loughran: Mine had a pineapple taste. I don't like pineapples anymore.

Olivia Branch: I think I went with a berry flavor and infused it with some berry water. So, it was like my own little evening cocktail.

Will Cooke: The colonoscopy, you don't remember anything. It's fine.

Mark Lorenzoni: I actually found it very peaceful. There really wasn't a bad part of it to me.

Norman Tillman: The best part was finishing the colonoscopy, and having made my mind up, I'm going to have a big sandwich after that.

Mark Lorenzoni: We went over to a fast-food place because I wanted to eat right away. That might be one of the best meals I've ever had in my life. I was so hungry.

Tom Loughran: You're kind of knocked out, and they told me not to make any important decisions that day. So, I couldn't divorce my wife, for example.

Andrew Baxter: The best part of the colonoscopy, having the doctor tell me that there was nothing wrong with me, and we'll see you in 10 years.

Mark Lorenzoni: The results of the colonoscopy were slightly mixed. They found a few polyps, which I guess is not unusual.

Andrew Baxter: They didn't find anything abnormal.

Olivia Branch: The results of my colonoscopy, I'm very fortunate. They were very good. No polyps were detected.

Will Cooke: Just the general sense of wellbeing or just knowing that I've had everything, I've done my due diligence. I've checked out. Everything's good.

Jonathan Bartels: They found a six-centimeter tumor.

Stacy True: When I got the results, and I found out I had colon cancer, it was a shock. Jonathan Bartels: I felt like I was free-falling.

Stacy True: If I didn't get this colonoscopy, I would not be standing right here talking to you now.

Tim Longo: We're entrusted with life. It's a gift, but you're entrusted with it.

Andrew Baxter: Save your own life. It's about taking ownership of your own health and wellbeing.

Norman Tillman: There's no need to resist having a colonoscopy done. It's a piece of cake. I would be more than happy to walk you through it and take you to it if you need to.

Olivia Branch: Early detection saves and changes lives.

Jim Ryan: I did it for my family.

Will Cooke: I did it for my peace of mind.

Olivia Branch: I did it for my mother, Elizabeth.

Andrew Baxter: I did it for my family. I did it for my friends, and I did it for my fire department.

Jonathan Bartels: I did it because I am not done.

Stacy True: I did it. You should too.

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