If you’ve already passed your 50th birthday, your doctor has probably recommended colon cancer screening at some point. If you’re younger than that, colon cancer might not be on your radar. Colon cancer has always been something that we think of as happening to older adults. Until recently, the American Cancer Society (ACS) agreed. Now, research shows that a growing number of people are getting colon cancer at an earlier age. In response, the ACS has lowered the screening recommendation age to 45.
What Is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer affects the large intestine, the final part of the digestive tract. When the rectum is affected, the disease is called colorectal cancer. Colon cancer begins as fleshy polyps that develop along the colon. Most remain harmless but some turn to cancer.
A colonoscopy is the most effective screening tool for our doctors to look for polyps. The greatest benefit of this screening procedure is that polyps can be removed at the time and any that look abnormal can be tested for colon cancer. Removing the ones that are benign prevents the risk of cancer returning. Spotting changes in the early stages helps prevent the progression into later stages of colon cancer.
Starting at the recommended age and repeating the test as recommended by your doctor can prevent anyone of average or high risk from developing colon cancer. The recommended age for those of average risk has now been lowered to 45. Those at a higher risk might need to be screened earlier and/or more frequently.
What Causes Colon Cancer?
No one knows exactly what causes colon cancer to develop or why some polyps turn cancerous and others don’t. There are some people at a greater risk of developing colon cancer than others. These include:
- Anyone aged 45 years or older
- Anyone with a family history of polyps or colon cancer
- Anyone with a personal history of polyps or colon cancer
- Those with related inflammatory bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- People who lead a sedentary lifestyle, are overweight or obese, and/or don’t get enough exercise
- Anyone who uses alcohol and tobacco
Why Has The Recommended Age For Screening Been Lowered?
Since no one knows the exact cause of colon cancer, it is difficult to say why more young people are getting it. Although there has been some increase in the occurrence in young people for the past several years, the ACS didn’t feel it was enough to validate lowering the age. Now, the organization feels the statistics can longer be ignored. The lower recommended screening age is based entirely on the shift in the age of the average person getting colon cancer.
How Do I Know If I Have Colon Cancer?
The signs and symptoms of colon cancer include changes in bowel habits (diarrhea and/or constipation), rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, abdominal discomfort that doesn’t go away, and a feeling of incomplete bowel movements.
The problem with waiting on symptoms to occur is that some people never have symptoms. Symptoms often occur during later stages making effective treatment less likely. That makes colon cancer screening essential to reduce the number of cases of colon cancer.
Insurance companies have not yet announced whether they will adjust coverage to pay for colon cancer screening at age 45. Currently, health insurance pays the cost of colonoscopy beginning at age 50. You will need to check with your insurance to confirm your benefits. If you have questions about colon cancer screening or about colonoscopy in general, contact Carolina Digestive Health Associates to schedule an appointment. Discuss your concerns with an experienced GI specialist and take preventive action against colon cancer.