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New guidelines lower age for colon cancer screening to 45

An advisory task force recommends that people in the United States be screened for colorectal cancers starting at age 45, sooner than the previous recommendation of age 50. Photo by Sozavisimost/Pixabay
An advisory task force recommends that people in the United States be screened for colorectal cancers starting at age 45, sooner than the previous recommendation of age 50. Photo by Sozavisimost/Pixabay

May 18 (UPI) -- Adults ages 45 to 75 should undergo screening for colon cancer, either by having a colonoscopy or through another method, according to new guidelines released Tuesday and published by JAMA.

The recommendation marks a significant change in that it lowers the age at which adults should have their initial screening to 45 years from 50, authors from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said.

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People age 45 to 75 should be screened for the disease to reduce their risk for death, while those age 76 to 85 should consider screening based on their individual risk, they said.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine.

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"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," Task Force vice chair Dr. Michael Barry said in a press release.

"Far too many people in the U.S. are not receiving this lifesaving preventive service," said Barry, who is director of the Informed Medical Decisions Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Colorectal cancers, including colon and bowel cancers, are the third most common form of the disease in the United States, with nearly 150,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

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These cancers also are among the deadliest nationally, as they kill more than 50,000 people across the country annually, the society estimates.

Although the number of people diagnosed with colorectal cancers has declined by about 1% over the past decade, cases of the disease among those age 50 and younger have risen by 2% over the same period, the society says.

For this reason, the American Cancer Society has long recommended that those considered to be at "average risk" for colorectal cancers start regular screening at age 45.

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People with a history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps, a family history of colorectal cancer, a history of inflammatory bowel disease or a history of getting radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer, among other factors, are considered to be at average risk.

In addition to colonoscopy, stool sample testing and a less-invasive procedure called a sigmoidoscopy can be used to screen for the disease.

Despite strong evidence that screening for colorectal cancer is effective at identifying the disease early, about one in four people aged 50 to 75 in the United States has never been screened, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

"Based on the evidence, there are many tests available that can effectively screen for colorectal cancer, and the right test is the one that gets it done," Task Force member Martha Kubik said in a statement.

"To encourage screening and help patients select the best test for them, we urge primary care clinicians to talk about the pros and cons of the various recommended options with their patients," said Kubik, director of the School of Nursing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

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