Preventative care: When is the right time to get a colonoscopy?

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:
ShorePoint Medical Group (CREDIT: WINK News)

Imagine a doctor telling you you’re too old for a colonoscopy.

It can happen because guidelines suggest stopping at age 75, which could be at odds with the fact that as you age, the chances of getting cancer increase.

Lynette Zwirlein follows her doctor’s advice on prevention. When it was time for a colonoscopy, she complied.

“Well I’m 80 now, it was last year, I was 79,” Zwirlein said.

That’s five years past the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force guideline of age 75 for someone with an average risk for colorectal cancer.

“It was put in because if you have a longevity of not more than 80 years, then doing it at 75 didn’t make sense,” said Dr. Harsh Duphare, a gastroenterologist at Shorepoint Medical Group.

In other words, it’s based on overall life expectancy. But he and most doctors believe it shouldn’t be the ultimate criteria in determining whether an older patient gets a colonoscopy.

“If they don’t have chronic heart disease, lung disease, they are not on blood thinners. So you know, they’re healthy people, I don’t think 75 just negates doing it on a patient who is otherwise healthy,” Duphare said.

Medicare covers colonoscopies regardless of age.

“It picks up colon cancer at this stage of polyps, and gives you the ability to remove those precancerous lesions and thereby take away the risk of colon cancer,” Duphare said.

With no pressing health issues or concerns about anesthesia, Zwirlein and her doctor made a tentative date for her next colonoscopy.

“He did say you probably don’t need another one for 10 years, I do remember him saying that,” Zwirlein said.

Screening after age 75 is considered a gray area and should be done on a case-by-case basis.

Statistically, a colonoscopy in people over 75 is linked to a39% reduction in colorectal cancer.


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