The American Cancer Society this week lowered the recommended age for colon cancer screenings to 45 from 50 for most people, based on data collected at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
Andrea Dwyer, director of the Colorado Colorectal Screening Program at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, used mathematical models to determine that 45 was the “sweet spot age” for colon cancer screening that should be able to catch the ailment earlier without adding a great deal of financial and physical burden for patients and providers.
The American Cancer Society announced the new guideline for average-risk people on Wednesday.
“We have seen over the last 15 years a rise in incidents in people under age 50 with colorectal cancer and particularly in very young people. This guideline will help with that impact of people under 50,” Dwyer said, “but we still have to figure out why there are people as young as 20, 25, 30 getting colorectal cancer.”
The data that influenced the American Cancer Society found that the lower screening age would result in about a 6 percent increase in the benefit of screening and would require a 17 percent increase in colonoscopies. This would be a little less than one additional colonoscopy for the average person.
Nick Roper, spokesman for Kaiser Permanente’s Colorado branch, said the healthcare provider would need to review the new data and decide whether the new recommended guideline makes sense for their patients.
At the moment, Kaiser recommends average-risk patients begin screening at 50 with either an annual test to check for blood in stool or a colonoscopy every 10 years.
Dr. Jay Lee, Kaiser Permanente internal medicine physician, said he’s seen patients in their early 40s and late 30s diagnosed with colon cancer without even family histories of the ailment.
“It does happen,” Lee said. “It makes sense that we need to look at this.”
About 1,900 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed each year in Colorado, and about 670 people die from the condition annually, according to 2016 data from the state Central Cancer Registry.
About 14 percent of colorectal cancer cases in Colorado are diagnosed in people under age 50.
Colorectal cancer incidence nationally has steadily declined over the past two decades in people over 55 because of screening that results in the removal of polyps and changes in exposure to risk factors, Dwyer said. But there has been a 51 percent increase in colorectal cancer among those under 50 since 1994.
The American Cancer Society is the first organization that has recommended colon cancer screening begin earlier for average-risk men and women of all races and ethnicities.
Dwyer and Lee stressed that anyone with a higher risk of colon cancer — such as family history of the disease — should speak with their doctor and seek earlier screenings. Anyone exhibiting symptoms of colorectal cancer like blood in the stool, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss of 10 or more pounds or nausea should talk to their doctor to be screen, Lee said.
“It’s imperative they follow up because about half the time, patients don’t follow up with screening even when they’ve been recommended,” Dwyer said.