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Starting colon, rectal cancer screening earlier reduces risk in women, study finds

Starting colon, rectal cancer screening earlier reduces risk in women, study finds
Women screened for colon and rectal cancers before age 50 are at lower risk for developing the diseases compared to those who avoid the testing or wait until they turn 50, a study published Friday found. Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

May 6 (UPI) -- Women screened for colon and rectal cancers before age 50 are at lower risk for developing the diseases compared to those who avoid the testing or wait until they turn 50, a study published Friday found.

Those who underwent colonoscopy screening starting at age 45 years have a 50% to 60% lower risk for colon and rectal cancers compared to those who don't have screening, data published Friday by JAMA Oncology showed.

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In addition, starting colon and rectal cancer screening at ages 45 to 49 has resulted in about a 50% reduction in cases of the disease diagnosed in people ages 45 to 60, compared with starting screening at ages 50 to 54, the researchers said.

Although the study focuses on women, men would likely see the same benefits, according to the researchers.

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"While there's been an alarming increase in the incidence of colorectal cancer in recent decades in younger individuals, screening has largely been focused on people over 50," study co-author Dr. Andrew Chan said in a press release.

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"Our work provides first-of-its-kind data to show that initiating screening at a younger age can reduce an individual's risk of colorectal cancer and the population's overall incidence of cancer," said Chan, a gastroenterologist and epidemiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Historically, it was recommended that adults age 50 years and older undergo screening for colon and rectal cancers, usually by colonoscopy, according to the American Cancer Society.

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However, in response to rising rates of these cancers in the United States, the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a group of physicians that develops disease screening guidelines, now recommend that screening begin at age 45.

Colon and rectal cancers are the third-deadliest form of the disease in the United States and cases among people younger than age 50 nationally have spiked by more than 50% since the 1970s, based on American Cancer Society data.

For this study, Chan and his colleagues assessed colon and rectal cancer risk among more than 110,000 women in 14 states, some of whom underwent their first screening for the disease at age 45, while the rest waited to age 50 or just skipped the procedure.

Most colon and rectal cancer screenings are performed via colonoscopy, a procedure in which a physician uses a flexible tube with a camera to examine the colon and rectum, according to the American Cancer Society.

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In addition to identifying cancerous tumors at an early stage, when they are most treatable, the procedure allows for the removal of polyps that could over time become malignant, the society says.

However, in recent years, options for screening have expanded to include non-invasive, at-home stool-based tests, it says.

"Any trepidation that clinicians might have had about the effectiveness of colorectal cancer screening at a younger age will hopefully be allayed by these results," Chan said.

"Our data show that we have an effective tool to address the epidemic of colorectal cancer among younger adults, and hopefully this will encourage physicians to have a conversation about screening with their younger patients," he said.

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