News: You Might Need to be Screened for Colon Cancer Much Earlier than You Think

There’s a good reason why the American Cancer Society wants screening to start sooner.

You might need to be screened for colon cancer sooner than you think, according to new guidelines released by the American Cancer Society (ACS).

With cases of colorectal cancer becoming more common—especially among younger adults—the ACS is now recommending beginning screening for colorectal cancer at age 45 instead of age 50, according to new guidelines published May 30, 2018.

Why Earlier Colorectal Screening Might Help Younger Adults

To start, some good news: Deaths caused by colorectal cancer are much lower today than they were back in 1970. The mortality rate dropped from 6.3 (in 1970) to 3.9 (in 2004) per every 100,000 adults aged 20 to 54, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This improvement is a big deal, considering colorectal cancer (including colon and rectal cancers) is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). There are over 97,000 new cases of colon cancer and over 43,000 new cases of rectal cancer each year.

The ACS credits improved screening of colorectal cancer, which can find polyps earlier and even remove them before they have the chance to become cancerous. Polyps are benign growths at first, but they grow gradually over 10 to 20 years and can eventually become cancerous.

For people at average colorectal cancer risk, guidelines had suggest that all adults begin screening at age 50. Screening was recommended for younger adults only if they were at increased risk of colorectal cancer, due to a family history, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, or other risk factors.

But colorectal cancer is becoming more common among Americans ages 30 to 49, according to the JAMA study, a group who wouldn’t be routinely screened per the existing guidelines. By starting to screen for colorectal cancer at age 45 instead of age 50, doctors may be able to find polyps sooner and remove them before they develop into cancer, or—if cancer cells are already present—intervene before it advances to a stage that’s harder to treat.  

Should You Get Screened for Colon Cancer Before Age 50?

The ACS is the first organization to recommend age 45 to begin colorectal cancer screening; other organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Heath still recommend starting at age 50.

Your personal risk factors should help you to decide when to begin screening. According to ACS, risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Eating a diet high in processed foods and red meats
  • Smoking
  • Binge drinking
  • Having a personal history of polyps in the colon
  • Having inflammatory bowel disease
  • Having a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps

Talk to your doctor about your risk of colorectal cancer and whether you would benefit from getting screened at age 45—or earlier.