Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: How often should I have a colonoscopy?

Q. How often should a healthy 55-year-old woman have a colonoscopy? Do the benefits outweigh the risk of complications, such as bowel perforation?

A. Colonoscopy is one of several tests used to screen for colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer and cause of cancer mortality (after breast and lung cancer) in American women. In 2008, some 149,000 Americans were diagnosed with the disease, and 50,000 died of it. Experts believe that adequate screening could have prevented perhaps 60% of those deaths.

How often you should be screened depends on the test and your risk for colon cancer. If you're at average risk and choose colonoscopy, you should have the procedure every 10 years, starting at age 50. Colonoscopy may be performed earlier and more often in people at increased risk, including those with a personal or family history of polyps or colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or a hereditary syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

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