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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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May 2000

Q. I have a brother who has been diagnosed with 3 colon polyps. He is 48 years old. They were benign, but he was told they could have turned into cancer if not removed. I am 38 years old and have no symptoms. Should I get a colonoscopy? If so, when?

A. Colon polyps are quite common, especially after age 50. They also can be hereditary. A relatively rare disorder is called familial polyposis coli, in which hundreds to thousands of polyps develop in the large intestine (colon), and does turn into cancer if not removed. These polyps develop shortly after puberty and in order to prevent cancer, the entire colon must be removed in affected patients. Family members must begin screening with yearly sigmoidoscopy (flexible scope up the rectum) until age 35. If no polyps be then, no need to continue screening, until the usual screening done at age 50.

Fortunately, your brother does not have this disorder, or he would have had many more polyps and or cancer by now. However, it is true that several types of colon polyps can turn into cancer if not removed early enough. In general, I recommend screening an individual about 10 years prior to a first degree family members diagnosis. Therefore, it probably would be a good idea for you to ask your doctor to consider referring you to a gastroenterologist for a screening colonoscopy at your current age. Unfortunately, if you have no symptoms, your insurance company may not cover it (approximate cost is $1,500.00 dollars). However, if you do have any type of symptoms such as abdominal pain or blood in the stool, etc, it usually would be covered. I also would suggest yearly stool cards.

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