Why Experts Want To Standardize Colon Cancer Screenings Starting At Age 45

Colorectal cancer occurs as a result of the continued dividing and growth of abnormal cells in the rectum or colon, explains the American Cancer Society. A widely held misconception is that colon cancer is a health condition exclusive to older adults (per Healthline). However, experts stress that this is not the case. "Thirty percent of colorectal cancer diagnoses are in people under the age of 55," Dr. Lynn O'Connor, chief of colon and rectal surgery at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre, N.Y., and St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., told Healthline.

Approximately one in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer at some point during their lives, and rates are expected to increase amongst the younger demographic. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has formally recommended individuals begin colon cancer screenings at age 45, which is 10 years earlier than previous recommendations of age 55 (per Healthline). However, a recent study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention shows that rates of colon cancer screenings amongst younger age groups are far below those of older age groups. Research findings suggest that in 2018, nearly 80% of those 70 to 75 years old underwent colon cancer screenings versus less than half of adults between 50 and 54 years of age who underwent screenings.

Addressing low rates of colon cancer screenings

According to the American Cancer Society, an early indicator of colon cancer risk is the development of a noncancerous growth in the colon or rectum known as a polyp. While polyps are often detected in roughly 50% of average-risk adults at least 50 years of age, less than 10% of them are thought to develop into invasive cancer. Because disease onset and progression can occur slowly over the course of up to 20 years, experts stress that early detection is the most effective method of protection.

However, the study highlights that boosting public awareness of colon cancer risk is not the only measure public health officials should be taking to boost screening rates. Dr. O'Connor points out that other factors also need to be addressed, such as the inability to get time off of work, procedure costs, lack of insurance coverage, and more (via Healthline). Another recent study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic suggests that region may also play a role in addressing colon cancer rates. Findings showed that areas of the Midwest, South, and Appalachia had higher rates of colon cancer-related deaths in those ages 50 and younger.

Dr. O'Connor states via Healthline that because colon cancer screening rates appear to be lower amongst those in low-income households as well as those without insurance, it's important to address systemic healthcare barriers faced by underserved communities.