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Colonoscopy: New evidence for the 10-year recommendation

Colonoscopy equipment

Jan. 17, 2019—Most people aren't excited about a colonoscopy. There's all that prep, after all. The upside is that you don't need them very often. Doctors generally recommend that if your results are clear, you don't need another one for 10 years.

And now there's hard evidence to back up that number. A new study found that a colonoscopy with normal results is associated with a greatly reduced risk of a colon cancer diagnosis or death 10 years after the exam.

Stopping cancer in its tracks

Colon cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in the U.S. It almost always results from precancerous polyps. Screening tests like colonoscopies can spot precancerous polyps so doctors can remove them. That keeps cancer from ever developing. It can also find cancer early, when it's easier to treat.

The standard advice is to get a colonoscopy every 10 years when results are routine. Until now, screening recommendations were largely based on how long it takes for a precancerous polyp to become cancerous.

This study changes that. The large scale of the study provides more certainty for the right timetable for colonoscopies. And it gives “every 10 years” a big thumbs up.

The study appears in JAMA Internal Medicine.

You've got choices

The American Cancer Society recently revised their recommendation for colon cancer screenings and now suggests people get them earlier, starting at age 45. But other organizations, such as the The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, still advise screenings start at age 50.

Talk to your doctor about when you should begin screenings based on your medical history. And be aware that a colonoscopy isn't your only option for colon cancer screening. You can also talk to your doctor about getting:

  • A sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • Fecal testing every year.

The best defense: Prevention

Learn more ways to protect yourself from colon cancer. They include four healthy lifestyle choices.

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