The American Cancer Society recommends you should begin screening for colon cancer at an earlier age. For a long time, that was 50. Now, it’s 45.
Dr. Cecelia Brewington, a professor of radiology and chief of community radiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, says the change stems from a steep increase in colon cancer patients under 50.
“We’re not certain of why we're seeing this rise,” Brewington said. “But there’s been such a steep rise, that they feel that it is important to act on decreasing the age in which we start screening.”
Insurers are still reviewing the American Cancer Society's recommendation, but Brewington encourages people to begin screening at 45.
“At least 5 percent of the colon cancers that we see today are in patients that are younger than 50,” she said. “More importantly, we’re going to see more lives lost as a result of the fact that up to 10 percent of those lives lost due to colorectal cancer are going to be patients who got that cancer under the age of 50.”
Reason for the change: The American Cancer Society has discovered that since 1994 there’s been an increase of about 51 percent in patients who have colorectal cancer that are under the age of 50. We’re not certain of why we're seeing this rise, but there’s been such a steep rise that they feel that it is important to act on decreasing the age in which we start screening.
Why not younger than 45: Some of our screening tests are not without risk. They’re small, but when you weigh the options of the benefits in patients who are younger than 45 against those risks that it’s better to not screen that age at this time.
Insurers on the age change: This announcement just came out May 30 and I don’t think that the insurers have had a chance to catch up. But I would urge consumers to start screening by the age of 45 as recommended by the American Cancer Society.
Why screening is important: Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers that we have — if we can get patients to screen. In 2018, we expect to see 50,000 deaths from colon cancer and the majority of those are unnecessary.
- ACS Screening Guidelines
- Start colon cancer screening at 45, not 50, American Cancer Society urges
- Tests to Detect Colorectal Cancer and Polyps
- Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.