The American Cancer Society caused a collective groan among middle-aged people everywhere earlier this year when it announced a change to its colorectal cancer screening recommendations. Rather than urging people to get screened regularly beginning at age 50, the society recommends people get screened starting at age 45. That’s right: When it comes to colorectal cancer, 45 is the new 50.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force still recommends regular screening begin at age 50 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). So what prompted the American Cancer Society to make the change? Researchers found that while colorectal cancer had declined for about 20 years in people age 55 and older, it was on the rise among people younger than 50. Researchers studied potential outcomes if regular screening began at a younger age and found the risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer declined if screening began at age 45 (American Cancer Society).
Researchers determined this benefit was true regardless of race.
“When we began this guideline update, we were initially focused on whether screening should begin earlier in racial subgroups with higher colorectal cancer incidence, which some organizations already recommend,” Richard C. Wender, M.D., chief cancer control officer for the American Cancer Society, said in a news release. “But as we saw data pointing to a persistent trend of increasing colorectal cancer incidence in younger adults, including American Cancer Society research that indicated this effect would carry forward with increasing age, we decided to reevaluate the age to initiate screening in all U.S. adults.”
The organization recommends people of average risk be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45. The American Cancer Society defines a person as being of average risk if he or she does not have any of the following:
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Chron’s disease
- A confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome
- A personal history of receiving radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
If you have any of the above, you’re considered at above-average risk for colorectal cancer. If that’s true of you, talk to your primary care provider about whether you need to be screened, even if you’re not yet 45.
Why all the emphasis on screening? Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer among men and women in the United States. About 140,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in this country each year, and it kills more than 50,000 people (CDC).
Colorectal cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers. Nearly every case of colorectal cancer begins with precancerous polyps, or abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. Sometimes these polyps might be present for years before they become cancerous. Screening can find the polyps so doctors can remove them before they become cancerous. Screening also can find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when it is more treatable. The earlier the cancer is caught, the more likely treatment will be effective and lead to a cure (CDC).
Screening doesn’t always have to mean colonoscopy. Lake Health Clinic and Warner Mountain Medical Clinic offer FIT kits, tests that can be done at home from the privacy of your own bathroom. The kits come with easy-to-follow instructions and can be returned to the clinics in the mail. Medical assistants at the clinics test the results within 24 hours of the kits’ return. If your results are negative, nothing more needs to be done until next year’s test. If the results are positive or inconclusive, clinic staff will call you to schedule a colonoscopy appointment.
For the second straight year, the clinics are taking part in a grant-funded project for Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization (EOCCO) members. Lake Health and Warner Mountain Medical clinics are working with Lake County Community Health Improvement Partnership and a third-party vendor to send FIT kits to EOCCO members who are due for colorectal cancer screening. Learn more about the project here. You can also call Lake Health Clinic at (541) 947-3366 or Warner Mountain Medical Clinic at (541) 947-2331.
You can also take steps to reduce your risk of developing cancer in the first place. Keep your colon and rectum healthy through lifestyle changes as simple as eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting your alcohol intake. Talk with your primary care provider about more ways to stay healthy.