By Sara Bondell - May 06, 2022
A new study shows screening women before age 50 for colorectal cancer can significantly reduce the risk of the disease compared to those who begin screening at 50.
The research, completed at Massachusetts General Hospital and published in JAMA Oncology, supports recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and American Cancer Society to start screening at age 45 to address the increase of colorectal cancer in younger patients.
“Projections show that by 2040, for 20- to 49-year-olds, colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Currently it’s breast cancer. That’s the future of colorectal cancer in this population,” said Dr. Ibrahim Halil Sahin of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center.
The study found a 50% to 60% lower risk of colorectal cancer among women who began screening with a colonoscopy at age 45 compared to those who had no screening. Researchers also found that starting screening at ages 45 to 49 resulted in a significant reduction in the population’s cases of cancer diagnosed through age 60 compared to women who begin screening at ages 50 to 54.
“People should know that colon cancer is a preventable disease,” said Dr. Mark Friedman, a gastroenterologist in Moffitt’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program. “If a patient is screened appropriately, early detection and treatment drastically improves outcomes. Colon cancer can affect all genders and races and people should talk to their health care providers about when they should start screening.”
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis and third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. While incidence rates have dropped in recent years, it is mostly among older adults. From 2012-2016, the rates have increased by 2% every year in those under 50.
“Implementing the new screening guidelines will help to change the course of this concerning trend in the U.S.,” said Sahin. “We also need more research to better understand why we’re seeing more and more colon and rectal cancers in young adults and to increase awareness of the disease in our younger population.”
The new screening guidelines, which were adopted by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force last summer, recommend people of average risk start colorectal cancer screenings at 45 instead of 50. The recommended screenings include colonoscopy, computed tomography colonography, flexible sigmoidoscopy and stool-based tests with high sensitivity. These tests will be covered by insurance, making screening accessible and affordable to millions more Americans.