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Why You Should Get Your Colorectal Cancer Screening at 45

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Why You Should Get Your Colorectal Cancer Screening at 45

Jun 18, 2021

Forty-five is the new fifty, at least when it comes to screening for colorectal cancer. New guidelines from the American Cancer Society suggest patients start screening for deadly cancer earlier. Dr. Priyanka Kanth from Huntsman Cancer Institute explains why the change in the screening age and how catching cancer early can save your life.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: It used to be 50. Now it's 45 and there's a good reason for that. Huntsman Cancer Institute and University of Utah Health says more lives can be saved if men and women who are at average risk of colorectal cancer get screened at 45 instead of 50 years old. Dr. Priyanka Kanth is from Huntsman Cancer Institute. Why the change? What happened?

Dr. Kanth: Over the years since mid-'90s to early 2000, we have noticed an increased risk, increase incidence, and mortality. Actually both. So increased cases and people dying from colorectal cancer. And that was the main reason people started looking into it, researchers started looking into it and came up with this studies, modeling studies. And that's why this recommendation was changed.

Interviewer: Yeah. And the reason that's so important is because unlike other disease that perhaps might show symptoms, and then you would go get treatment. That's not how colorectal cancer presents. It really is screening is the best way to save lives.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. You're very right about it. So most of the early onset cancers or any colorectal cancer, early stages do not produce symptoms. Polyp usually starts with a polyp, which is a little bump in the colon and it changes into colon cancer. These polyps do not produce symptoms and they grow slowly, and you will never know you have one. So that's the biggest problem with colorectal cancer. And by the time you have symptoms, it's fairly late. So screening is the best strategy to prevent this cancer.

Interviewer: And this new research has just really shown that people between 45 and 49 because catching it early is the best defense that a lot of good can be done by having it at 45.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. Absolutely. There are certain research which has shown that there was a drastic increase even between age 49 and 50. So one study showed that there was an increase of almost 46% between age 49 and 50. So if we decrease it from 50 to 45, we are really hoping to capture that colon cancer patient. And this would be very, very beneficial between that age group.

The other thing I would like to say that this is also an incentive, an added benefit to increase screening from age 50 to 55, 50 to 54. But traditionally, it has been on the lower side if you do it from 50 to 75. There's slightly decreased screening rates in screening uptake between age 50 to 55. So this will help patients who are thinking about it at age 50, but did not get it till age 55. Now they're like, "Oh, you have to get it done at 45, let's get it one at by age 48." Something like that. So this will be very helpful at that point.

Interviewer: Is there a perception that colorectal cancer is an older person's disease?

Dr. Kanth: Yes. I think a lot of us, a lot of our patients in general public we think cancer is an old person's disease, especially colorectal cancer. That's not the case anymore. This is still true. Most colorectal cancer will still be diagnosed when you're older, but there has been a rise in patients who are younger than age 50. Some of it is because of genetic causes, but the rise has been in the average risk. So this perception should be changed. We should consider 45 as new 50 to start screening now.

Interviewer: And really that number, age 45 is the most important number. It's not do I have a family history? It's not do I have symptoms? It's not am I a man or a woman and think I'm less likely to get it. Really as soon as anyone hits that age of average risk of 45, that's the trigger you should go get it checked.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. Very correct. So 50 was . . . the same recommendation was for anyone, any gender, male, female. Any person who hits 50, you should get a colonoscopy. Now that has changed to 45. So it doesn't matter if you have symptoms, you should get it checked, especially if you don't have family history. If you have family history, that's a different story. If you don't have family history or average risk, please go get checked at age 45.

Interviewer: How is this going to impact those that do have an increased risk? Not an average risk, an increased risk? Does that also drop their age that they should go in down or do we know?

Dr. Kanth: So, at this point, if you have a family history, we usually start screening early. Most of the time we start screening at age 40. Or if somebody had colon cancer, I'd say whatever age, 10 years before they had colon cancer. So that may not change so much. It's possible we can look at the data and that may change again, but at this point, this recommendation is only for average risk. So family history is a different cohort of patients. That is still a very good point for primary care physician for all of us to ask that history from patients, "Do you have a family history of colon cancer?" Because your risk might be very different from the average risk.

Interviewer: So have that conversation if you're above average risk with your physician, your provider is whether or not you should get it earlier.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely. Yes.

Interviewer: All right. And for the recommendation, is a colonoscopy okay? The home stool test, is that impacted by this age going down to 45?

Dr. Kanth: The best screening is the one that gets done. So that's another message which has to be delivered by providers. Colonoscopy is not the only screening test. Colonoscopy is gold standard because you can see the polyps you can remove it before it turn into cancer. But there are other very, very good stool tests which can detect colon cancer easily. They are non-invasive, you stay at home, you don't have any logistics around it. And those are good tests to be done. So that's a big message which everyone should know that colonoscopy is not the only way to detect cancer. There are other very good stool tests, which everyone should consider. If you're declining colonoscopy for any reason, do go for a stool test.

Interviewer: So if it's a stool test or if it's the colonoscopy, it doesn't matter. Average risk needs to be 45 now.

Dr. Kanth: Absolutely.

Interviewer: All right. And also, I understand with the new recommendation that Medicare, Medicaid, and also your commercial insurance will cover either one of those screenings starting at 45.

Dr. Kanth: That is correct. And that's what we believe after the new recommendation which has been endorsed by pretty much all the societies that all these should be now covered under preventive care just that how we had it at age 50. Even now, some insurances are already covering at age 45, but that was more sporadic. So now we expect this to be 100% covered.