What you need to know about colon cancer screenings

Author: Jon Adamy


"Colonoscopy is the gold
for detection
and removal of colon polyps."

If there was something you could do right now to lower your risk for cancer, would you do it? That’s what you need to ask yourself if you’ve been putting off a colonoscopy.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer for Americans, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’ve never had a colonoscopy before, here’s what you need to know.

Screenings save lives

“Colon cancer symptoms don’t typically occur until the cancer is in later stages, so it’s important to start screenings early,” said McLaren Greater Lansing general surgeon Nicholas St.Hilaire, DO, MS, MPH

“The American Cancer Society recommends screenings start at age 45 for people with an average risk of cancer, but that number can change depending on several factors.”

If you have an immediate relative who has been diagnosed with colon cancer, you should start screenings 10 years earlier than their age when they were diagnosed.

You have options, but there’s only one gold standard

There are stool-based screening tests you can take at home, like Cologuard. Although they’re fairly accurate, Dr. St.Hilaire says they can’t replace a colonoscopy.

“Colonoscopy is the gold standard for detection and removal of colon polyps,” said Dr. St.Hilaire. “If an at-home test comes back abnormal, it leads to a diagnostic colonoscopy rather than a screening colonoscopy, which can impact insurance coverage. Patients should discuss their options with their physician to determine the best test for them.”

Prep properly

There are a few ways your doctor may have you prepare for your colonoscopy, but it’s crucial to follow the instructions exactly how they’re provided.

“Some patients see results with the first part of the prep and think it’s okay to eliminate the rest of the prep,” said Dr. St.Hilaire. “This is not okay and may result in having to reschedule your colonoscopy, or to do the subsequent colonoscopy at a shorter interval because of poor prep.”

It starts with a referral

Getting a colonoscopy starts with a referral from your primary care physician to a general surgeon or a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy. Click here for a list of physicians accepting new patients in the Lansing area.