Colorectal cancer survival in the United States has improved significantly over the last three decades. But research shows a trend of higher incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer in younger adults. In response to this trend, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released new recommendations in May 2021 for colorectal cancer screenings to begin at age 45 instead of 50. Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) strongly supports this change and has updated colorectal cancer screening guidelines to align with the USPSTF recommendation.
According to a statement from USPSTF task force chair Alex Krist, MD, "New science about colorectal cancer in younger people has enabled us to expand our recommendation to screen all adults starting at age 45. Screening earlier will help prevent more people from dying of colorectal cancer."
Luke Martin, MD, colorectal surgeon at HCI and assistant professor of surgery at the U of U, knows the need for the age change in his clinic. "We’ve recently seen a rise in colon and rectal cancers in patients under 50 years of age," he says. "This is an important change from 50 to 45 to diagnose cancers at an earlier stage and to prevent cancers."
Colorectal cancer screenings help prevent cancer and look for cancer in the colon and rectum. There are different types of colorectal cancer screenings. A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) looks for blood in a stool sample and is done at home every year. There is no preparation or recovery time needed.
During a colonoscopy, the patient goes under anesthesia while the provider feeds a lighted camera and scope into the rectum and colon to look for small growths called polyps, which may develop into cancer. It requires a bowel cleanse and is normally done every 10 years. Martin says colonoscopy is considered the gold standard. The change in screening age to 45 increases the probability of finding polyps early so they can be safely removed.
HCI experts urge everyone to talk to their doctor about what colorectal cancer screenings are right for them. Screening guidelines may change based on sex, age, and family history.
In addition to screenings, these lifestyle habits can help prevent colorectal and other cancers:
- Avoid tobacco. This includes cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping, and chewing tobacco.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a risk factor for many types of cancer.
- Be physically active. Move your body for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Eat healthy food. Diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in fats and red or processed meat can help prevent colorectal cancer.
- Limit alcohol. Drink in excess can lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
For more information about colorectal cancer or any other cancer topic, contact HCI’s Cancer Learning Center at 1-888-424-2100 to talk with a cancer information specialist.