If you’re in your 40s, it’s not too early to think about how you can reduce your risk of colon cancer. In response to rising cases among younger people, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has lowered its recommended age for colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45.
This decision from one of the nation’s premier panels of medical experts highlights the importance of taking early action against the third-most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S.
Traditionally, colorectal cancer has been associated with older adults in their 50s, 60s and 70s. In recent years, however, there has been a steady rise in colorectal cancer cases among people younger than 50, for reasons which are not fully understood. The task force report found an almost 15% increase in cases among adults ages 40 to 49 between 2000 and 2016.
Here’s the good news: Screening can help prevent colon cancer by detecting growths (polyps) that can be removed before they turn into cancer. In most cases, colon cancer starts as a polyp.
Colorectal cancer is most treatable when it’s found early.
Since colorectal cancer usually does not cause symptoms until it has progressed, screening is key to finding cancer early, making it easier to treat and beat.
The screening methods recommended by the task force are colonoscopies and stool-based fecal tests. A colonoscopy examines the colon and rectum for polyps, while fecal tests look for cancer cells or blood in a stool sample. Your primary care physician can discuss the options with you so you can make the best choice.
Who Should Get Screened
Catching colorectal cancer early is particularly important for African Americans, who as a population have higher incidence rates of the disease than any other racial or ethnic group. The loss of actor Chadwick Boseman, who died last year at age 43 after a four-year battle with colon cancer, was a tragic and public reminder of that. Boseman’s death also helped raise the alarm that colon cancer is not a disease that only affects older adults.
Most people under 45 don’t need a screening yet, but you should still watch for colorectal cancer symptoms. These include unintended weight loss, blood in your stool, abdominal cramps, or changes in your bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation.
USPSTF guidelines are followed closely by health insurers, and these new recommendations are expected to lead to expanded coverage for colorectal cancer screenings. Talk to your doctor about getting screened if you are age 45 or above, or if you have risk factors like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, certain types of polyps, or a family or personal history of the disease.
Stay On Track, Reduce Your Risk
The pandemic has led to delayed diagnosis of cancer, which adversely impacted our ability to cure otherwise highly curable disease. If you’ve been putting off routine care or screenings, it’s time to get back on track.
It’s normal to feel anxious about having a colonoscopy. For many people, fear of colonoscopy is a barrier to getting screening. Many people worry the test will be painful or embarrassing. These screenings aren’t painful, and any embarrassment you may feel is outweighed by the benefits of screening. To put it simply: This test could save your life.
Finally, don’t skip screening because you’re afraid of receiving a positive result; pioneering new therapies, minimally invasive techniques and precision medicine breakthroughs, like those being developed by the expert clinician-scientists at City of Hope, are reshaping the fight against colorectal cancer.
Discover safe and expert colorectal cancer care at City of Hope | Newport Beach. Call 949-763-2204 or schedule an appointment to speak with one of our highly specialized cancer physicians.