According to new recommendations released Tuesday, Americans should begin getting screened for colorectal cancer at the age of 45, rather than waiting until they are 50.
Since colorectal cancer is rapidly emerging in younger people, the US Preventive Services Task Force believes it is time for a change. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, killing over 50,000 people each year. Overall, the number of cases and deaths has decreased in recent years, due to advances in screening tests that can detect tumors early and even avoid them by eliminating precancerous growths.
The task force has long suggested that individuals between the ages of 50 and 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. However, since the early 2000s, the number of new cases before the age of 50 has been increasing. Adults at an average risk of colorectal cancer should be screened between the ages of 45 and 75, according to the current guidelines.
According to the ruling, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, most insurance companies will be required to cover the checks without a copay. The task force has also aligned itself with the American Cancer Society, which in 2018 reduced its recommended screening age to 45.
The new guidelines apply to all, even if they aren’t showing signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer, and even if they don’t have a family history of the disease.
“Far too many people in the U.S. are not receiving this lifesaving preventive service,” said task force vice chair Dr. Michael Barry. “We hope that this new recommendation to screen people ages 45 to 49, coupled with our long-standing recommendation to screen people 50 to 75, will prevent more people from dying from colorectal cancer.”
The new advice shows “45 is the new 50 for this important cancer prevention screening intervention,” Dr. Kimmie Ng of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, who wasn’t involved in the task force deliberations, wrote in JAMA.
The frequency at which people should be screened is determined by the type of screening they choose. There are a number of choices available, including annual stool-based checks or 10-year colonoscopies.
According to Dr. Nancy You of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, earlier testing would help diagnose precancerous polyps or early cancer in younger patients before the disease necessitates more intensive care.
“We have a lot more treatment options that are less invasive and have better results when we treat cancer at the earlier stages,” she said. “That makes a huge difference to our patients.”
Experts predict that having people screened will continue to be difficult. Currently, one out of every four people aged 50 to 75 has never been screened for colon cancer, and only about 60% of adults in the United States are up to date with their screenings, according to Krist.