May 30 (UPI) -- The American Cancer Society changed its recommendation Wednesday for colorectal cancer screenings, saying adults should begin them at age 45 -- not 50, as previously advised.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth-most commonly diagnosed cancer among adults and the second-leading cause of cancer death, in the United States. Prior recommendations to catch slow-moving malignancies advised the start of regular checks at age 50, but a paper published by the ACS Wednesday said Americans should jump on it sooner.
"There is compelling evidence that the optimum age to start is now 45," Dr. Richard Wender of the ACS told NPR, noting a sharp increase in deaths from colon and rectal cancers among men and women under age 50.
"People born in the eighties and nineties are at higher risk of developing colon cancer, particularly rectal cancer, than people born when I was born back in the fifties. We just have to face reality. We just don't know why it's increasing."
Other groups, including the independent and volunteer U.S. Preventative Services Task Force of specialists, maintain their recommendation that screenings start at 50.
Dr. Robin Mendelsohn of New York City's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said the hospital has seen 4,000 new colorectal cancer patients younger than 50 in the last decade. And they typically do not show the traditional risk factors -- obesity, smoking, physical inactivity or high-fat diets.
"[Some] are marathon runners who don't eat red meat, don't smoke, do everything right and say 'Why did this happen to me?'" Mendelsohn said, noting the patients have often seen doctors who told them they could not have cancer so young.
The ACS paper said colonoscopies, visual tests and a high-sensitivity stool-based test are effective means of detecting colorectal cancer. It also categorized tests for the 45-50 age group as a "qualified recommendation" and tests for those over 50 as a "strong recommendation."
The group said improved screening techniques is a possible reason more cases of colorectal cancer are being found in the 45-50 age group.