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By Ackerman Cancer Center


New Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines

Colorectal Cancer: Awareness is Key

Colorectal cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women combined, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). With March being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, now is a good time to learn more about this disease. Colorectal cancer collectively refers to cancers that start in the lining of either the colon or the rectum. It usually begins as a growth, which is called a polyp. The type of polyps most likely to become cancer are adenomatous polyps. Other kinds of polyps are common, like inflammatory or hyperplastic polyps, but they typically don’t evolve into cancer. It’s critical for the type to be determined so that the appropriate course of action can take place in a timely manner.

New Screening Guidelines

The right screening at the right time can help make a difference in your treatment plan, prognosis, and peace of mind. And now the American Cancer Society urges you to get screened even earlier. The new suggested screening age is 45 instead of 50. Due to the nature of colorectal cancer, people can attribute the symptoms to other illnesses or conditions. The symptoms may be ignored altogether. And sometimes there are no obvious signs of the disease that would concern the patient. This is why it is best to follow the recommended screening guidelines and communicate any concerns or questions with your doctor. Updated screening guidelines from the ACS in 2018 provide a plan for you to stay aware of your needs and risk factors. The following lists important changes to note.

Suggested ages for colorectal cancer screening in average risk* adults:

  • Age 45 - start screening (previously age 50)
  • Age 45 to 75 - regular screenings
  • Ages 76 to 85 - discuss screening needs with doctor
  • Over age 85 - no screening

*For those who are at a higher risk, screening may need to begin before age 45, happen more often, or include specific types of tests. If you have personal and/or family history that includes colorectal cancers, polyps, bowel disease, other colorectal issues, or radiation treatment in the abdominal region, you may be considered high risk. Be sure to communicate that history with your health care provider.

You should also familiarize yourself with symptoms that can be caused by a cancer in the colon or rectum, even though colorectal cancer can be present with no signs. Read more about colorectal cancer symptoms.

Connections Between Age and Stage

More than 50,000 people die from colorectal cancer each year. While the number of deaths overall has steadily declined over the last few decades, one age group is reportedly experiencing an increased number of late-stage colorectal cancer diagnoses. This finding is based on a survey of 1,195 adults who were diagnosed before age 50. The survey, conducted by the CRA, revealed that 71% of the participants were at stage III or stage IV when diagnosed. For comparison, patients who are over age 50 when diagnosed are more likely to be at stage I or II. Such findings have helped decrease the recommended first screening age as shown above.

Early Detection Can Save Lives

Fortunately, advancements in screenings continue to help improve the outcome for many patients each year. Together, patients and their physicians can decide which screening is best through open conversations guided by the ACS guidelines and recommendations.

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