The older you get, the more necessary screenings are for certain health conditions. In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered recommendations for colorectal cancer screenings from 50 years old to 45 — meaning the work of prevention starts a little earlier.
The reason for the age change is that data was starting to show an increase in colorectal cancer rates among younger and middle-aged demographics. While for people over 50, colorectal cancer rates have decreased, increases in diagnosis for these younger age groups have climbed 51% since 1994, according to the American Cancer Society’s findings.
The good news, though, is that colorectal cancer is considered one of the most preventable cancers because of the efficacy of screening. Colonoscopies can detect polyps in the colon or rectum so that they can be removed before they become more serious and sometimes before you even notice signs and symptoms.
Our Doctors Say Screenings Are a Lifesaver
We talked to colorectal specialists throughout our health system about screening guidelines. Here’s what some of them had to say:
Charles Morgan, MD, internal medicine specialist at St. Francis Health: “Average-risk patients should observe the screening guidelines of 45 years of age. Patients with a family history or high-risk factor such as inflammatory bowel disease should begin screening likely at 40 but should consult with their primary care provider or gastroenterologist for specific recommendations.”
Greg A. Bizette, MD, hematology oncologist at Our Lady of the Lake Health and Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Institute: ”If you’re over the age of 45 and have never had a screening colonoscopy, it may save your life. We often find premalignant polyps at the time of endoscopy that can be removed non-surgically and prevent cancer from ever occurring.”
Matthew Boudreaux, MD, colon and rectal surgeon at Our Lady of Lourdes Health: “Nothing compares to the efficacy of getting a colonoscopy. It’s absolutely the first line of defense in the treatment of colon cancer.”
What to Know About the Guidelines
Here are the basics from the American Cancer Society recommendations:
- Adults 45 and older with an average risk of colorectal cancer should undergo regular screening with either a high-sensitivity stool-based test or a structural (visual) exam, depending on patient preference and test availability.
- The change in starting age is designated as a “qualified recommendation,” because there is less direct evidence of the balance of benefits and harms in adults 45-49 since most studies have only included adults 50 and older. The recommendation for adults 50 and older is designated as a “strong recommendation,” based on the greater strength of evidence and the overall benefit.
- As a part of the screening process, all positive results on non-colonoscopy screening tests should be followed up with timely colonoscopy.
- Average-risk adults in good health should continue colorectal cancer screening through age 75. For individuals 76 and older, decisions for screening should be based on patient preferences, life expectancy, health status and prior screening history in consultation with their primary care provider.
Other Health Risks to Know
There are certain lifestyle factors associated with increased risk for colorectal cancer, and many of them can be changed or adjusted to improve your health, such as:
- Being overweight
- Not getting enough exercise
- Alcohol use and smoking
- Diets high in red meats and processed meats
Other factors that can contribute to increased risk are being older, inflammatory bowel disease and a family history with colorectal conditions.
Your primary care provider can speak with you about those risk factors and any steps you should take.
Your Next Steps
Talk with your primary care provider if you’re 45 and older or have a family history of colorectal cancer. Your primary care provider can advise you about screenings and walk you through any questions you might have about a colonoscopy or other alternatives.