The American Cancer Society expects colorectal cancer to cause about 53,000 deaths by the end of the year. The best protection against colorectal cancer is early detection because the sooner cancer is detected, the more treatable the disease is. With that in mind, oncologists are always working to develop more effective methods of detecting cancer and re-evaluating when patients should begin screening for cancer. Visiting your doctor and receiving these important screening evaluations is an essential part of maintaining your health.
Adults at an average risk of developing colorectal cancer have traditionally been recommended to begin regular colonoscopy screenings at age 50, but recently The American Cancer Society has changed this guidance. As of May 2021, The American Cancer Society recommends people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. Individuals who may be at higher risk of colorectal cancer should consult with their physician to determine when to begin regular screening.
Why Should People Start Colorectal Screening Younger?
This new guidance comes in response to changes in colorectal cancer and death rates among younger adults. Although colorectal cancer rates for people over 50 years old have decreased, The American Cancer Society found that rates have increased by 51% since 1994 for people under 50. By beginning regular screenings earlier, doctors hope to detect and prevent colorectal cancer in this increasingly vulnerable population.
While there are many colorectal screening tests available, a colonoscopy is the most effective at detecting cancer. Depending on test availability, some doctors may recommend using a different test first, such as a FIT (fecal immunochemical test), and following up with a colonoscopy if a positive result is detected. On top of being the most accurate test, a colonoscopy also allows doctors to remove precancerous polyps during the screening. In this way, a colonoscopy is both a screening test and a preventive treatment.
What Puts Someone At Higher Risk Of Colorectal Cancer?
There are both genetic and lifestyle risk factors for colorectal cancer. As with many diseases, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps can be a major risk factor for developing colorectal cancer yourself. Genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome can also increase your risk for colorectal cancer. You should ask relatives if you have a family history of colorectal cancer if possible, and share that information with your doctor so they can determine your personal risk.
Lifestyle risk factors for colorectal cancer can include the following:
- Lack of regular exercise
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- A low-fiber, high-fat diet
- Consuming many processed meats
- Alcohol and tobacco use
Like the genetic risk factors, it is important to keep your doctor informed about your lifestyle habits. When you and your doctor work as a team, you can take preventive action to protect yourself against colorectal cancer.
The data shows that the risk of developing colorectal cancer is increasing in younger adults. The best defense against cancer is early detection, which can be achieved through regular screening tests like colonoscopies. To learn more about how colonoscopies are performed and how they can prevent cancer, click here.