When Should I Get My First Colonoscopy?

Hint: It Might Be Ear­li­er Than You Think

Wis­dom, deep­er rela­tion­ships with the peo­ple you love, a new per­spec­tive on life — there are many things to look for­ward to as you age. But one mile­stone you may not be look­ing for­ward to is your first colonoscopy.

Why Should I Get a Colonoscopy?

  • In the US, when col­orec­tal can­cer is caught ear­ly, the 5‑year rel­a­tive sur­vival rate is around 90%.
  • Unfor­tu­nate­ly, only 40% of those cas­es are caught ear­ly — even though reg­u­lar colono­scopies can help. 
  • 33% of Amer­i­can adults who should be test­ed for col­orec­tal can­cer have nev­er under­gone a screening.

A colonoscopy is a screen­ing that allows your provider to view your large intes­tine — includ­ing your colon and rec­tum. Dur­ing the pro­ce­dure, they use a cam­era that lets them see things like polyps, ulcers, tumors, or inflam­ma­tion.

It’s impor­tant to note that pre­can­cer­ous polyps are com­mon. In fact, more than 40% of peo­ple com­ing in for a colonoscopy screen­ing will have a pre­can­cer­ous polyp. When your doc­tor finds a colon polyp, they will remove it and send it for test­ing — elim­i­nat­ing its abil­i­ty to turn into can­cer. The colon does not have the abil­i­ty to feel pain, so removal of the polyp is pain­less, and most polyps are found and removed dur­ing a colonoscopy.

So when should you get your first colonoscopy — and what is it actu­al­ly like? 

When It Comes to Colono­scopies — 45 Is the New 50 

You may have grown up or gone through your adult life hear­ing that you should get your first colonoscopy when you turn 50 years old. But with cas­es of colon can­cer on the rise, new guide­lines rec­om­mend get­ting your first colonoscopy at an ear­li­er age.

In May 2021, the US Pre­ven­tive Ser­vices Task Force issued new rec­om­men­da­tions for col­orec­tal can­cer, stat­ing that peo­ple at aver­age risk should start screen­ing at age 45, which will allow health insur­ance com­pa­nies to cov­er the cost of the test at a younger age.

If you are an adult with an aver­age risk of col­orec­tal can­cer, the Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety now rec­om­mends that you should get your first colonoscopy at age 45. 

You are at aver­age risk for colon can­cer if you don’t have:

  • Col­orec­tal can­cer or seri­ous polyps (large or numer­ous) in your family’s med­ical history
  • Inflam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­eases — like ulcer­a­tive col­i­tis or Crohn’s disease
  • Pre­vi­ous can­cer that required radi­a­tion to the bel­ly, abdomen, or pelvic area

It’s impor­tant to get screened for col­orec­tal can­cer because it often devel­ops with­out any symp­toms. Many peo­ple may have colon can­cer or ear­ly-stage polyps and not even real­ize it. By get­ting your first colonoscopy at 45 — and at reg­u­lar inter­vals through­out your life — your provider can make a note of any changes over time.

If you are at aver­age risk for col­orec­tal can­cer — and have colono­scopies that are nor­mal with good visu­al­iza­tion — you should get a colonoscopy every 10 years until you turn 75. If your provider finds non-can­cer­ous polyps in your first colonoscopy, then they may rec­om­mend you get a colonoscopy more often — typ­i­cal­ly every 3 to 7 years.

When To Get Your First Colonoscopy Ear­li­er Than 45 

Typ­i­cal­ly, most adults should sched­ule their first colonoscopy when they turn 45. But if you have an increased risk for col­orec­tal can­cer, you should plan to have your first colonoscopy ear­li­er than 45 years old. Symp­toms such as changes in bow­el habits, blood in stool, and weight loss may be indica­tive of more seri­ous con­di­tions, chang­ing the colonoscopy from a screen­ing to a diag­nos­tic procedure.

If some­one in your fam­i­ly has been diag­nosed with col­orec­tal can­cer, your provider might rec­om­mend that you get your first col­orec­tal screen­ing at 40 years old, or 10 years ear­li­er than your fam­i­ly member’s ini­tial diag­no­sis.

So for exam­ple, if your moth­er was diag­nosed with col­orec­tal can­cer at age 45, you should plan to get your first colonoscopy at age 35 — 10 years before the age when your moth­er was diagnosed. 

If you are at an above-aver­age risk for col­orec­tal can­cer, talk to your doc­tor about how often you should get a colonoscopy — the reg­u­lar­i­ty of col­orec­tal can­cer screen­ing will depend on your per­son­al and fam­i­ly med­ical his­to­ry.

Hav­ing an increased risk for col­orec­tal can­cer can be over­whelm­ing — but just because your risk is high­er, it doesn’t mean that a diag­no­sis is a guar­an­tee. Your Duly provider can give you the resources, screen­ings, and knowl­edge you need to under­stand your risk.

Get­ting Your First Colonoscopy at Duly 

Colono­scopies might seem like just anoth­er item on your get­ting old­er check­list,” but they are actu­al­ly so much more. This sim­ple screen­ing can be life­sav­ing — but only when you make and keep your appointment. 

You may have some nerves about get­ting your first colonoscopy — and these are total­ly nor­mal. In the same way that you might be wor­ried about giv­ing a big speech or mov­ing to a dif­fer­ent state, it’s nor­mal to feel ner­vous when you have to do some­thing new for the first time. 

Duly is here to help you feel con­fi­dent in the nec­es­sary prepa­ra­tions before your colonoscopy — and to help you feel com­fort­able dur­ing it. 

Sched­ule your first colonoscopy today by call­ing 630−717−2600.

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  • I am originally from a small farming community in downstate Illinois and am the son of a physician.