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Are colon cancer screenings necessary after a certain age?

Published on 21 September 2017 back to previous

Q. I am 77 and in overall good health. My previous colonoscopies to check for colon cancer have been normal. Can I stop having them?

A. The major benefit of colon cancer screening is seen in men ages 50 to 75. After age 75, the potential benefit is smaller, and the risks and side effects of the procedure — like bleeding and perforation of the colon — are higher.

Most physicians follow the screening recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The USPSTF suggests colon cancer screening for people ages 50 to 75 by one of three methods: an annual home fecal occult blood test (stool test), a sigmoidoscopy every five years, or a colonoscopy every 10 years.

The USPSTF does not recommend routine screening for men over age 75, but there may be people for whom regular check-ups are beneficial: for example, men who have had precancerous polyps during an earlier colonoscopy or those with a family history of colon cancer. Men without these risk factors who have had normal colon tests in their 50s and 60s are less likely to have a problem detected.

Also, men with serious medical problems, such as heart failure, emphysema, or liver cirrhosis, are unlikely to benefit from continued screening. However, for men who have never had a colonoscopy, it is still worth considering the test at least once, even if they are older than 75.

— by William Kormos, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch

This article was sourced from Harvard Health Publishing. Click here to read more.

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