A: Most everyone aged 45-75 should be screened regularly for colon cancer.
💥 March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month! 💥
➡️ Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States. Recently rates of colorectal cancer in younger people have been increasing. For that reason, guidelines were updated in 2021 to reduce the age to start screening from 50 down to 45. Due to the distractions of the pandemic, however, a lot of folks are not aware of this new change!
⚠️ The rate of colorectal cancers in people under age 55 has been increasing by 1-2% per year since 1990. This younger group now accounts for 20% of all cases diagnosed. It’s anticipated that about 20,000 people under age 50 will get diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2023! We’re not sure why more younger people are getting colorectal cancer. Obesity and consumption of highly processed foods are risk factors, so it’s possible that these younger generations are more likely to have those, but the science is not yet clear.
➡️ What we do know is that screening saves lives. Screening can reduce colorectal cancer cases and deaths by 50-60%. This is amazing! Screening tests look for cancer before someone has symptoms. They can find cancer early or even before it starts (pre-cancer). The earlier it’s found, the easier it can be to treat and potentially cure. This is why screening is SO effective and SO important.
There are a variety of screening tests available, ranging from at-home stool tests for blood and/or cancer DNA that are performed every 1-3 years to “direct imaging” tests (sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy) that use a small camera to look inside of the large intestine and are performed every 3-10 years. Each test has advantages and disadvantages, so talk with your clinician to find which one is best for you and your situation. The key thing here is to get screened, whichever way will work for you.
Note: These recommendations apply to people who do not have any symptoms and who are not at increased risk of colorectal cancer due to family history or other medical conditions (see link below). If you have symptoms or are at higher risk, talk with your clinician about when and how you should be tested. If you are over age 75, screening may still be important, but it varies depending on what other medical conditions you may have. If you are 76 or better, talk with your clinician about whether colorectal cancer screening is right for you.
Also note: Most major medical organizations support starting colorectal cancer screening at age 45, but a few do not. They point out that we do not have as much data on risk vs benefit in the 45-50 age group and that we could more effectively decrease colon cancer by ensuring that all people over 50 have access to screening and appropriate care. See link below for more information.
➡️ BOTTOM LINE: Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Rates are increasing in younger people, so screening is now recommended at age 45 and up. Talk with your clinician about what test is right for you.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls
March 2023 data from American Cancer Society showing increase in colorectal cancer in younger persons
United States Preventive Services Task Force Screening Guidelines for Colorectal Cancer
Great information from Colorectal Cancer Alliance
Those Nerdy Girls post about the cancer DNA stool test
Risk factors for colon cancer (things that may put you at higher risk)
American Academy of Family Physicians statement about starting at 50 instead of 45