ST. LOUIS – New guidelines announced Tuesday from the federal government lowers the recommended age for colon cancer screening to 45. It was previously 50. The move is coming in response to rising colon cancer rates and deaths in young adults.
SSM Health Gastroenterologists in the St. Louis area have been calling for the change for years.
“Many of our societies have moved the age down from 50 to 45 within the last couple of years and that’s because increasingly, we’ve been seeing younger individuals with colon cancer at more advanced stages,” Dr. Charlene Prather, SLUCare gastroenterologist at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital said.
Over the past 25 years, the rates of colon cancer increased 51% higher for people under 50. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is now recommending screenings begin at age 45 and Dr. Prather said there are other screening options than a colonoscopy.
“Something called Fit Testing which is a specialized test looking for blood in the stool, another test looks at fecal DNA,” Prather said. “These are excellent alternatives for individuals who are unable or unwilling to undergo a colonoscopy.”
Some people have been told for years to have the screenings at 45 because they are either high-risk, African-American or have a family history.
Screenings work well. People over the age of 50 colon cancer rates have gone down by about one-third over the past couple of decades.
“The wonderful thing about colonoscopies is not only are they colon cancer detection tests, but they are colon cancer prevention tests,” Prather said. “The reason you get a colonoscopy is to identify precancerous lesions that we can remove right then and there.”
While doctors aren’t yet sure why more cases are occurring in the younger age group, they say that screening people earlier will save lives.
“Colon cancer is preventable. Colon cancer is treatable. It’s important to get out there and get screened,” Prather said.