The American Cancer Society (ACS) recently lowered the recommended screening age for colon cancer from 50 to 45. An increasing number of young people have been developing colon cancer for several years. Until now, the ACS determined that early screening wasn’t likely to have an impact. Now that the number has grown much larger, the ACS feels that it is time to act.
Who Is At Risk?
The new screening recommendation age of 45 is for those people with an average risk. Your doctor may recommend earlier and more frequent screening if you have a family or personal history of polyps or colorectal cancer or any other high-risk factors. These include inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Lifestyle habits like eating a low-fat, high fiber diet, getting too little exercise, and using alcohol and tobacco are also linked to a higher incidence of colon cancer.
Age has always been the biggest risk factor with more than 90 percent of people who developed colon cancer aged 50 years or older. The American Cancer Society has found that the number of people getting colon cancer before that age is on the rise. In response, they have lowered the recommended screening age to reflect this trend.
Why Is Early Screening For Colon Cancer So Important?
Screening for colon cancer allows doctors to take a preventive approach to treatment. The cancer begins when polyps develop in the large intestine. Most polyps are benign and never cause any harm. Some turn to cancer, leading to colon and/or rectal cancer.
Many people who get colon cancer never experience any symptoms. Colon cancer usually presents symptoms only after it progresses to later stages. The farther the cancer progresses, the less likely it is that treatment will be effective. Earlier screening allows doctors to detect the presence of polyps before they turn cancerous.
How Do You Screen For Colon Cancer?
A colonoscopy is the most effective way to screen for colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, the doctor will look for polyps and remove them during the procedure. Removing benign polyps prevents colon cancer from ever developing. People who are at a higher-than-average risk of developing colon cancer often require colonoscopies more often than those with an average risk.
What Are The Symptoms?
Common symptoms of colon cancer include bowel changes (diarrhea and constipation) along with rectal bleeding or blood in the stool. Some patients experience a feeling of the bowel not emptying completely and they may have ongoing abdominal discomfort. As with many types of cancer, colon cancer can cause fatigue and unexplained weight loss.
The purpose of lowering the recommended screening age is to prevent colon cancer at an increasingly young age. It is also important to be vigilant about getting screened regularly, even if you are at an average risk.
There is no age limit on who can get colon cancer. Prevention through screening is the best approach to improve the numbers. It’s still too early to say whether insurance companies intend to cover colon cancer screenings at the age of 45 as recommended by the ACS. Contact your insurance company to verify coverage.
Colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Following the new guidelines from the ACS encompasses a wide of pool of people and increases the effectiveness of screening.
Sameer Islam, MD is a board-certified Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist practicing at Southwest Gastroenterology in Lubbock, Texas. For an appointment feel free to contact his office at (806)-761-0747. You can get more information from his webpage (www.sameerislam.com) where you can also subscribe to his monthly newsletter. He also has a weekly Facebook Live show on Tuesday, 8 p.m. CST.