When to Get Screened for Colon Cancer If You Have a Family History

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Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide. It often develops from precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum and can be life-threatening if not detected and treated early. If you have a family history of colon cancer, your risk of developing the disease may be higher. This article aims to provide valuable insights into when to get screened for colon cancer if you have a family history, helping you understand the importance of early detection and preventive measures.

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When to Get Screened for Colon Cancer If You Have a Family History

Understanding the Risk of Colon Cancer with Family History

Familial Risk Factors

Having a family history of colon cancer can increase your risk of developing the disease. This risk is particularly heightened if one or more first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) have been diagnosed with colon cancer. The risk may further escalate if multiple family members are affected or if the diagnosis occurred at a young age.

Genetic Factors

In some cases, colon cancer risk may be associated with specific genetic mutations, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). These genetic conditions can lead to a higher likelihood of developing colorectal cancer and may necessitate earlier and more frequent screening.

Screening Guidelines for Individuals with Family History

General Screening Guidelines

For individuals with a family history of colon cancer, it’s crucial to follow appropriate screening guidelines to detect and prevent the disease. The American Cancer Society (ACS) and other medical organizations recommend the following general guidelines for colon cancer screening:

  • Begin regular screening at age 45 for individuals with average risk.
  • Screen earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors.

High-Risk Individuals

If you have a family history of colon cancer, you may be considered at higher risk, and your screening recommendations may differ:

  • First-Degree Relative: If one first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) has had colon cancer, screening may begin earlier, typically at age 40 or 10 years before the age of diagnosis of the affected family member, whichever is earlier.
  • Multiple Affected Relatives or Early Diagnosis: If multiple first-degree relatives have had colon cancer or if the diagnosis occurred at a young age (before age 50), you may need more frequent screening.
  • Genetic Syndromes: Individuals with known genetic syndromes like Lynch syndrome or FAP may require specialized screening protocols and should consult with a genetic counselor for personalized recommendations.

Types of Colon Cancer Screening


Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for colon cancer screening. During this procedure, a flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the colon to examine the entire colon and rectum. If polyps or abnormal tissue are found, they can be removed during the same procedure.


Sigmoidoscopy is similar to colonoscopy but examines only the lower part of the colon. It is less comprehensive than a colonoscopy but may be recommended as a screening tool in certain cases.

Stool-Based Tests

Stool-based tests, such as the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) and the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), detect blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer or polyps. Positive results on these tests may lead to further evaluation with a colonoscopy.

CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy)

CT colonography is a non-invasive imaging test that uses computed tomography (CT) scans to create detailed images of the colon. While it does not require sedation or the insertion of a tube, a full bowel preparation is still necessary.


In conclusion, if you have a family history of colon cancer, it’s crucial to be proactive about your health and follow the appropriate screening guidelines. Early detection is key to preventing and treating colon cancer successfully. Discuss your family history with your healthcare provider to determine the most suitable screening schedule and method for you, taking into account any specific risk factors or genetic syndromes.

Remember that colon cancer is highly treatable when detected early, and by getting screened as recommended, you can significantly improve your chances of a positive outcome. Take control of your health, prioritize screening, and reduce the impact of family history on your risk of colon cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I prevent colon cancer if I have a family history of the disease?

While you cannot completely eliminate the risk of colon cancer, you can significantly reduce your risk through regular screening, a healthy lifestyle, and, in some cases, genetic counseling and testing. Early detection and removal of polyps can prevent cancer from developing.

What if my family history of colon cancer is on my spouse’s side? Does that increase my risk?

Your risk of colon cancer is primarily influenced by your immediate family’s history, such as your parents, siblings, or children. A family history on your spouse’s side is generally not considered a significant risk factor, but it’s essential to discuss your family’s medical history with your healthcare provider to determine your specific risk.

Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to reduce my risk of colon cancer with a family history?

Yes, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk. This includes maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber, engaging in regular physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding tobacco, and maintaining a healthy weight.

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