Screen for Colon Cancer at Age 45

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 27, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Average people are expected to start screening at age 45 to prevent colon cancer, five years earlier than now recommended, according to the nation’s largest preventive medicine panel.

The US Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends that people between the ages of 50 and 75 be screened regularly for colon cancer, one of the few cancers that can be avoided outright.

But new data suggests that screening earlier could save even more lives, said task force member Dr. Michael Barry, director of the informed medical decisions program at the Health Decision Sciences Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“We have epidemiological data that the risk of colorectal cancer increases before the age of 50, especially in that 45 to 49 age group,” Barry said.

Computer models suggest that about 25 colon cancer deaths are prevented per 1,000 Americans aged 50 to 75 who are screened, Barry said.

The earlier start should prevent at least one more death per 1,000 screened, Barry said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies are required to cover the full cost of any screening test recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The working group is an independent, voluntary group of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine.

This guideline covers people at average risk for colon cancer, Barry said. People with factors that put them at higher risk – for example, a strong family history of colon cancer – might need to start screening even earlier and should discuss this with their doctor.

Colon cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps that form in the colon or rectum. These screening tests detect the presence of these polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

Colonoscopy is the best-known colon cancer screening method, but it’s not the only one, Barry said.

“There is a whole bunch of tests that can lower the risk of someone dying from colorectal cancer,” he said.

For example, people may have their stools tested for the presence of small amounts of blood, which may indicate the presence of cancer or polyps.

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