SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The recommended age for colon and rectal cancer screenings has shifted from 50 to 45 years old, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced Tuesday.
About one in 20 people in the U.S. will get colorectal cancer at some point in their lives. The American Cancer Society estimates it will cause nearly 53,000 deaths just this year.
“It is rare to find a family that has not been affected in one way or another,” Dr. Elizabeth McKeown, a colorectal surgeon at Memorial Health.
McKeown says since 2016, the recommended age to screen for the disease was 50 years old. In a population of 1,000 people, this would avoid about 50 cases from developing and about 25 deaths.
Now that screening will begin at age 45, doctors could prevent even more cases and deaths.
“Colon cancer, in general, is a fairly slow-growing cancer,” said McKeown. “Colon cancer starts with colon polyps, and that’s really what colonoscopy is geared at finding.”
“Cancer before it becomes cancer,” she added.
The updated guidelines, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), apply to people with no symptoms, prior diagnosis or family history of colorectal cancer.
“Thirty to 40% of the population, depending on gender, will have pre-cancerous polyps at their initial screening colonoscopy,” said McKeown, “and so those are the folks that we are really trying to stratify into.
“You don’t have polyps, you’re okay for another 10 years, or you do have polyps, we really need to screen you more carefully.”
McKeown says, full disclosure, it’s an uncomfortable procedure, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
“I will say out of all my patients with colon cancer, not a single one regrets getting a colonoscopy,” said McKeown.
McKeown says because this is an official recommendation from a federal task force, screening services for 45- to 75-year-olds will be covered by most private insurance plans, with no co-pay.