New Recommendation: Start Colorectal Cancer Screening at Age 45
Cancer of the colon and rectum is the second deadliest cancer among U.S. adults. Recently, there has been a sharp rise in colorectal cancer cases among adults younger than age 55. In response, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has issued new guidelines for colorectal cancer screening:
For people at average risk for colorectal cancer: Screening should start at age 45. In previous guidelines, the starting age was 50.
For people at high risk for colorectal cancer: Screening may need to start sooner, as recommended by your healthcare provider. Factors that increase your risk include:
A personal history of colorectal cancer, certain polyps (noncancerous growths that may turn into cancer over time), or inflammatory bowel disease
A strong family history of colorectal cancer
Earlier screening can save lives
Screening can find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when it may be easier to treat. Even better, screening may prevent the cancer from developing by finding and removing polyps.
After reviewing research on colorectal cancer screening, ACS experts found that lowering the starting age to 45 will save additional lives. Not all organizations have updated their guidelines, however. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force still recommends a starting age of 50.
Several test options are available
The ACS guidelines say that several tests may be used to screen for colorectal cancer. They can be divided into two broad categories:
Tests that look for signs of cancer in your stool. Done every 1 to 3 years.
Visual exams of your colon and rectum using a viewing scope (colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy) or CT scan (virtual colonoscopy). Done every 5 to 10 years.
If you’re age 45 or older, or if you’re younger but in a high-risk group, talk with your healthcare provider about getting screened for colorectal cancer. Also, check with your health insurance plan about your coverage for the screening. That’s especially important if you haven’t turned 50 yet.
Each screening test has different pros and cons. Ask your provider for guidance on choosing the right one for you. And don’t put off this crucial conversation. When it comes to finding colorectal cancer, sooner is much better than later.