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What You Should Know About the New Colon Cancer Screening Recommendations

The American Cancer Society recently recommended individuals at average risk for colorectal cancer get screened earlier. The new recommendations say screening should begin at age 45, for people at average risk, instead of 50.

Ashok Attaluri, MD, a gastroenterologist with Olathe Health GI Specialists, explains the reason for the new recommendation and answers other commonly asked questions.

Why did the American Cancer Society change their guidelines?

The change in guidelines was based on a review of dozens of studies looking at the incidence of colorectal cancer in patients younger than 50. It was determined that there were enough new cases of colorectal cancer among younger adults, cumulatively from all these trials, that patients between ages 45 and 50 would benefit from screenings for colorectal cancer.

You can read more about the new ACS recommendations here.

Are you seeing more patients in your clinic developing colon cancer at a younger age?

Over the past few decades, we've seen a distinct uptick in the number of cases of younger patients - some of them with no known risk factor for colon cancer - coming to our office with concerning symptoms resulting in a diagnosis of colon cancer. These concerning symptoms include change in bowel habits, blood in his/her stool, unexplained weight loss or abdominal pain.

How do I know when I should get screened?

Patients at a higher risk of colorectal cancer include those with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps. Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) are also considered high risk. These high-risk individuals may need screening at an earlier age or at more frequent intervals. Talk with your healthcare provider about what is best. If a patient is at average risk, screening should begin at age 45.

Is a colonoscopy my only option?

There are different types of screening tests available, in addition to a colonoscopy. Those include:

  • CT colonography
  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Fecal DNA test

To determine which type of screening is best for you, consult your family medicine physician, and check to see what your insurance covers.

What are colon polyps?

Colon polyps are growths on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. They start off very small and then progress through histologic changes to develop into full-blown cancer. While some types of polyps do grow more aggressively, most polyps take anywhere from seven to 15 years to develop into cancer. That means if a 45-year-old receives a colonoscopy and polyps are discovered, that polyp may have started growing in their early to mid-30's. This is why earlier detection is important.

Why is it important to get screened at the recommended age?

The intent of screening tests, not only for colorectal cancer but for any other cancer, are to prevent cancer, or at the very least detect cancer at an early enough stage so the treatment can work towards the cure and being completely cancer free. Some tests can be uncomfortable. Taking a colonoscopy prep can be uncomfortable, however changes in the way we recommend colonoscopy preps be done has made this process much less unpleasant than it used to be. I would say this is a half-day of unpleasantness in return for at least 10 years of not worrying this one kind of common cancer.

How do I schedule a screening or colonoscopy?

Most patients who require screening tests do not need to be seen in the office prior to the procedure, so it can be scheduled directly for the screening test of their choice. You can find a specialist who provides these screenings by asking your family medicine physician, visiting the colonoscopy page on our website or calling our physician information line at 913-791-4396.

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