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When Do I Need a Colonoscopy If I'm a Woman?

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Men aren't the only ones who get colorectal cancer. Here's why you need a colonoscopy – and when to schedule it.

Colonoscopies are the best way to detect colorectal cancer. And even if you're a woman, you need one. Although some people think of colorectal cancer as a men's disease, women are just as much at risk. A colonoscopy can reduce your risk by up to 60%.

Some people avoid having a colonoscopy because they're scared, but colon screenings aren't so bad.  They're usually painless, and although they can have some unpleasant side effects when you're preparing for the test, that all goes away pretty quickly. Having to deal with cancer is a whole lot worse than going through a relatively simple screening to help prevent the disease.

When found early, colorectal cancer is easily treated and can often be cured. The screening test also helps detect pre-cancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. If polyps are found during a colonoscopy, they can usually be removed at that time.

What to expect when you get a colonoscopy:

  • You'll have to clean out your colon first. Most people consider this the worst part of the test. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to prep for the procedure. While you're doing it, you'll need to stay pretty close to a bathroom.
  • Right before your colonoscopy, you will usually be given a sedative through an IV. It will make you sleepy and most people don't feel anything or remember anything about the test.
  • You will need to have someone drive you home because you may still feel some effects from the sedative for a few hours. Otherwise, slight bloating, cramping and gas are usually the only post-procedure effects.

When should you get a colonoscopy?

    • The American Cancer Society now recommends you start screenings at age 45 if you have no specific risk factors. Repeat every 10 years, or more often if recommended by your doctor, through age 75 if you are in good health and have a life expectancy of more than 10 years.
    • If your parent or sibling had colon cancer before age 60, begin screenings 10 years earlier than the age your family member was when diagnosed or at age 40, whichever is younger.
    • Between ages 76-85, the decision to be screened should be based on a number of factors, including overall health, life expectancy and prior screening history.
    • People over age 85 no longer need to get colonoscopies.

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