Dr. Walter Chan and patient navigator Oscar Sanchez team up to encourage patients to get a colonoscopy.

One of the key missions of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is to remind people that a colonoscopy is an invaluable tool for helping to prevent colorectal cancer. So why doesn’t everyone get one?

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) gastroenterologist Walter Chan, MD, MPH, stresses that everyone should get screened for colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer by age 50. Thereafter, patients should get a colonoscopy every 10 years, up to age of 75. Patients over the age of 75 should ask their doctor whether they should get a colonoscopy or any other colorectal cancer screening test. People with a family history of colorectal cancer should get a colonoscopy even sooner – at age 40 or earlier – and some medical experts recommend that African-Americans start screening at age 45.

Unfortunately, many people fail to follow this advice, and the impact is significant. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Massachusetts, but it’s believed that more than 33 percent of these cases could be prevented if everyone over the age of 50 were screened.

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