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Digestive Health and Wellness

Colorectal Cancer Screenings Should Now Begin at Age 45

Colorectal cancer is increasingly affecting younger people, and new screening guidelines stand to save thousands of lives. Still, some people may need to get checked even earlier. 

In May, the primary medical guidelines-setting organization announced that all people at average risk for colorectal cancer (CRC) should start getting screened at age 45. The United States Preventive Services Task Force’s new guideline lowered the screening age by five years, and it’s a decision that will save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Young-onset colorectal cancer

The new guideline is a response to the changing face of CRC. Rates in people under age 50 have increased 2 percent each year since 1990, and young patients are often diagnosed with more advanced disease than their older counterparts.

The world got a tragic glimpse last year into the rising rates of young-onset CRC when actor Chadwick Boseman died. Boseman’s death at age 43 highlights the need for further study of young-onset CRC, particularly in the Black community.

In the United States, the Black population is hit harder by this disease, as they are both 20 percent more likely to get colorectal cancer and 40 percent more likely to die from it. Further research is needed to determine whether screening should start earlier for some groups.

When to get screened

The new guideline opens up screening to about 20 million additional people in the United States, most at no cost through insurance providers. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance estimates the change will save at least 280,000 lives. But it’s critical to note that some people should get screened earlier. And because about three-quarters of young-onset CRC cases are diagnosed in people aged 40 to 49, the guideline will not prevent every case.

Anyone experiencing symptoms, especially those with blood in their stool, should talk to their doctor now. People at higher risk of colorectal cancer, including those with a family history of the disease or certain hereditary syndromes, should also talk with their doctor about when they should first get screened. As many as 1 in 3 colorectal cancer patients has a family history of colorectal cancer, so proactive screening is especially important.

On-time screening is the No. 1 way to prevent colorectal cancer, the second deadliest cancer in the United States among men and women combined. Most patients have screening options, including at-home tests. Visit quiz.getscreened.org for a free, personalized screening recommendation.

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