Colorectal cancer is any cancer that affects the colon and rectum, located at the lower end of the digestive tract. Symptoms include changes in bowel habits, pain and bloating in the abdomen, fatigue or tiredness, and an unexplained iron deficiency. However, these symptoms can sometimes go unnoticed, so doctors recommend screening regularly. Over the past few months, new guidelines have been implemented in regards to colorectal cancer screening, like lowering the age at which screening should begin.
Why is colorectal cancer screening important?
Regular screening can find colorectal cancer when it is small and more easily treatable. Certain types of screening, like colonoscopies, can detect precancerous growths, called polyps, on the colon and rectum before they turn into cancerous cells. Other symptoms for colon cancer that are not so easily detectable tend to pop up as the cancer progresses, which makes regular screening important.
"The purpose of screening is not to catch cancer early; it is to prevent it. When these polyps are caught before they can turn into cancer and cut out, you are lowering the chance of developing colon cancer. You don’t want to wait till you have symptoms, like blood in your stool or weight loss."
- Dr. Benjamin Musher
Medical Director of Medical Oncology
Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center
What are the changes in colorectal screening guidelines?
The major change in colorectal screening guidelines is the lowering of the age for starting screening from 50 to 45 years of age. The American College of Radiology also encourages screening efforts to be expanded to include more at-risk populations, including Black individuals, who are about 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer.
What causes colon cancer in young adults?
According to the National Cancer Institute, the current discussions surrounding the causes of early-onset colorectal cancer involve three related factors: diet, bacteria in the gut, and inflammation. Obesity, exercise, and medications (such as antibiotics) can all affect what goes on your colon, so it is important to pay attention to what you put in your body and stay physically active.
What are the different types of colon cancer screening techniques?
There are a variety of screening techniques available to test for colorectal cancer, some of which are more invasive than others. There are benefits and downsides to each test, but the most important thing is to get screened. Here are the different screening techniques and how often they should occur according to the American Cancer Society:
- Highly sensitive fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year
- Highly sensitive guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) every year
- Multitarget stool DNA test (MT-sDNA) every three years
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- CT colonoscopy (virtual colonoscopy) every five years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy (FSIG) every five years
How frequently you receive these screenings also depends on what your doctor finds during each test.
Who should consider earlier colorectal screening?
Those at average risk of colorectal cancer should begin regular screening at age 45. People at higher risk of colon cancer may need to start screening before age 45, as well as get screened more often or receive specific tests. According to the American Cancer Society, you are at higher risk if you have:
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A family history of colon, bowel, or rectal cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
- A suspected or confirmed colorectal cancer syndrome
- A personal history of receiving radiation to the abdomen to treat a prior cancer
Talk to your primary care physician or gastroenterologist about when you should begin screening. Schedule your colonoscopy with St. Luke’s Health today.
Medical News Today | Colorectal Cancer: What You Need to Know
Cancer Care | Colorectal Cancer: The Importance of Screening and Early Detection
American College of Radiology | Updated USPSTF Colorectal Screening Guidelines Would Help Save Lives
American Cancer Society | When Should You Start Getting Screened for Colorectal Cancer?
National Cancer Institute | Why Is Colorectal Cancer Rising Rapidly among Young Adults?