When Should Your Start Colon Cancer Screenings?

Categories: Cancer Prevention, Cancer Screening, Colorectal Cancer

May 1, 2019

Did you know that the screening age for colorectal cancer was lowered to 45?

Based on recent research, the American Cancer Society (ACS) lowered the recommended age to begin colon cancer screening from 50 to 45. The five-year difference is important to note when it comes to managing your health care. The ACS predicts that in 2019 more than 23,000 Oregonians will receive a diagnosis of colon cancer. Learning more about the screening process is one step a patient can take in preventing and fighting this dreaded disease.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

This cancer is more commonly known as colon cancer. Colorectal cancer develops in either the colon, the rectum, or both. Polyps form in the lining of the colon or rectum and screening is a useful tool for detecting them.

Not all polyps are cancer. There are two types of polyps, one type is not cancerous while the other type is considered pre-cancerous—meaning it can develop into cancer.

Why Should I Be Screened for Colon Cancer?

Proactive behavior is always good strategy when it comes to your health. Certain types of colon and rectal cancers can be prevented through regular screenings. Screenings can detect precancerous growths that can be removed before they develop into cancerous growths, or even the very early stages of cancer.

Early detection is important with all cancers and for patients with colorectal cancer, the statistics are encouraging: 90% of people who received an early diagnosis live beyond five years.

Bottom line: Early detection saves lives. If you are age 45 and of average risk for colorectal cancer, talk with your doctor regarding a screening. If you are younger than 45 and have a family history or other high-risk factors, schedule a screening sooner rather than later

Why Was the Age Lowered?

After a full review of the data, researchers discovered a concerning trend: cases of colorectal cancer are increasing among young adults. In order to better detect, and to prevent new cases, the Guideline Development Committee of the ACS decided to lower the recommended screening age.

Cancer researchers know that new cases relating to younger adults are on the rise and they continue to study why. What they do know is that obesity, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition are among the contributing factors.

What researchers and the ACS want to do most is to change public perception of the disease as one that only affects older people. Cancer researchers have estimated that in the next 10 years colorectal cancer rates will raise by 90% in people ages 20 - 34 and by 28% in people ages 35 - 49

The ACS continues to increase efforts for raising awareness about the new recommended screening age. By doing so, they hope younger adults will take note and action by scheduling a screening appointment.

What is the Difference Between Average and High Risk?

The amount of risk one person faces for developing colorectal cancer is an important factor when it comes to screening. Your doctor may, or may not consider screening necessary depending upon your level of risk. Understanding the criteria associated with average vs. high risk is important for clear communication with your doctor.

  • Average Risk - People considered at average risk for colorectal cancer have no known family history and are on average, fairly healthy. They should begin screening at the recommended age of 45 and continue with regular screenings until age 75. At that time, the patient and their doctor can discuss whether to continue with screenings.
  • High Risk - Important contributing factors that place many people at high risk for colorectal cancer are:
    • Family history of colon or rectal cancer
    • History of inflammatory bowel disease
    • Receiving radiation treatment to the pelvic region for a previous cancer

For those with high risk, ACS guidelines recommend screenings earlier than age 45, and more frequent screenings. Talk with your doctor about recommendations for your specific medical history.

What is a Colonoscopy?

A standard colonoscopy involves the use of a colonoscope, a flexible lighted tube that is inserted into the rectum. The colonoscope features a lens for viewing and a tool for removing tissue. Air is inserted into the rectum, helping doctors to better view the colon lining. If any abnormal growths are identified, they can be removed for testing during this procedure. There are two important steps that contribute to a successful test:

  • Most patients receive some type of sedation for the test.
  • A thorough cleansing of the colon is necessary preparation for a colonoscopy.

According to the National Cancer Institute, studies show that colonoscopy screenings can reduce colorectal cancer deaths as much as 60-70%, which is why a colonoscopy is often the preferred screening test for early detection. A key benefit of a colonoscopy is the ability to view the entire colon.

Other Common Types of Screening for Colon and Rectal Cancers

  • Virtual colonoscopy (CT colonoscopy)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • At-home stool DNA test
  • At-home guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFBOT)
  • At-home fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

Start Talking About It

We understand - Colorectal cancer is not a pleasant subject. The ACS encourages people to move beyond the uncomfortable feelings of discussing the disease and its symptoms. Remember, more than 23,000 Oregonians will possibly receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis this year. Know that if you receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis, you are not alone. Oregon is home to many highly experienced oncology professionals who are standing by to help you.

Catch cancer early by scheduling regular screenings, paying attention to symptoms, and learning your family history. These simple steps might just save your life.

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