Your first colonoscopy: What to expect
Along with regular exams, practice awareness. This means you should be familiar with your body. That way you’ll notice changes, like bleeding or unusual bowel movements. Then, report them to your doctor without delay.
The screening recommendations below apply to most adults.
Men and women at average risk for colorectal cancer should choose ONE of the following screening exams beginning at age 50. African American men and women choose ONE of the following screening exams at age 45.
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Virtual colonoscopy (also called computed tomographic colonography) every five years. A colonoscopy will be performed if polyps are found.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year
Your doctor can help you decide if you should continue screening after age 75. MD Anderson doesn’t recommend screening for adults after age 85.
If you choose a virtual colonoscopy, check with your insurance provider before scheduling an exam. Not all insurance providers cover the cost of this exam.
Exams for adults at increased or high risk
Adults at increased or high risk are more likely to get colorectal cancer. This doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get cancer. But, you may need to start screening at an earlier age, get additional tests or be tested more often.
You’re at increased or high risk if you fall under one or more of these groups:
- African American
- Personal history of precancerous colon polyps (adenomas)
- Family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps (adenomas). In other words, a family member had or has colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps.
- Personal history of Familial Adenomatous Polyposis or suspected Familial Adenomatous Polyposis without yet having undergone genetic testing
- Personal history of Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer or family history of Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer
- Inflammatory bowel disease (chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
Suspect you may be at increased or high risk? Print and share MD Anderson’s colorectal cancer screening chart with your doctor.
Exams for adults who have had colorectal cancer
If you’ve had colorectal cancer, you need a different plan to check for recurrence.
Print the survivorship screening chart below that best describes your cancer type. And share it with your doctor. Your doctor can use this chart to create a more tailored plan for you.
The screening plans on this page apply to adults expected to live for at least 10 years. They’re not for adults who have a health condition that may make it hard to diagnose or treat colorectal cancer.
I was hired as an infectious disease specialist by MD Anderson in 1983. And until I retired in January 2019, I routinely helped patients with one of the most common side effects of cancer treatment: infections.
But despite working at MD Anderson for more than 35 years and watching several of my colleagues struggle with cancer diagnoses, I put off getting a colonoscopy until I was 66. That’s 16 years later than recommended. The results showed I had stage I colorectal cancer.
My colorectal cancer diagnosis
It was my wife who saved my life.
Most people get a bit heavier over the holidays, but I’d been losing weight steadily for about four months by early 2017. And I was not trying to. I was also experiencing fatigue. One night, my wife finally looked across the dinner table at me and said, “You are literally melting away before my eyes. What’s it going to take to get you to go to the doctor?”
That was the wake-up call I needed. I reached out to a colleague, who ordered a CT scan. It showed a 1.5-inch tumor in my sigmoid colon. A few days later, I had a colonoscopy. A biopsy of tissue taken during the colonoscopy revealed the tumor was adenocarcinoma. I had surgery to remove the tumor and part of my colon a few weeks later.
Don’t put off screenings and preventive tests
Fortunately, the cancer hadn’t spread to any nearby lymph nodes, so I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation therapy. My recovery was relatively quick and pretty unremarkable. And my scans have been clear ever since the surgery.
But I was lucky. I made all sorts of excuses for not getting a colonoscopy. I told myself that I had no family history of colorectal cancer. And I already had heart problems, so I had enough to worry about.
But as a doctor, I should’ve known better. Whatever preventive tests or screenings are recommended for someone your age, don’t put them off. Get tested. And if your friends or loved ones are procrastinating, go and talk to them. Follow through.
Because if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.