This past March, the American Journal of Gastroenterology kicked off Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by lowering the official clinical guidelines for colorectal cancer screening from age 50 to 45 for both men and women. This change comes in lieu of the stark increase in instances of cancer among younger Americans since guidance was last changed in 2009, and recommendations now urge all average risk adults to schedule regular colorectal cancer screenings between the ages of 45 and 75. As screening for colorectal cancer is the best and most effective solution in catching and treating this deadly disease, experts are confident that the lowered age threshold for screenings will make a huge impact on patient outcomes and long-term survivability.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosis in the United States, and the incidence deaths in younger, more middle aged Americans is increasing each year, up to 1% per year from 2008 to 2017, though the overall rate of colorectal cancer has decreased during that time period. This is due to the success of routine screening in older patients those with elevated risk profiles. By lowering the recommended age from 50 to 45, experts can now hope to capture instances of colorectal cancer in younger patients before the disease progresses past the point of being treatable.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is defined as any cancer of the colon or rectum, or the end of the digestive tract. Cancers in this area of the body usually begin as noncancerous polyps, which can be found and diagnosed through routine screening. These polyps rarely cause pain or other noticeable symptoms, which makes regular testing for colorectal cancer so important.
Colorectal Cancer is Highly Preventable
No, you didn’t misread that title: unlike many other cancers, you can lower your risk of colorectal cancer by staying aware of your health. With regular screenings, visits with your gastroenterologist, and a keen understanding of your personal risk profile, your chances of developing colorectal cancer can be drastically reduced. Routine screening for colorectal has been proven to save lives.
Though regular testing may not be able to eliminate all instances of colorectal cancer entirely, it can make the chances of catching the disease early much more likely, increasing long-term survival rates and improving outcomes. The earliest stages of colorectal cancer are often symptomless, but this stage is also the most treatable and involves fewer interventions. This is part of what makes colorectal cancer so insidious: without routine screening, you may not know you have it until the disease has progressed beyond the point of effective and comprehensive treatment.
How Does this Update Affect High Risk Patients?
In short, it doesn’t. It simply lowers the threshold for routine screening in patients with average risk. If you already know that your risk of developing colorectal cancer is higher than the general population, this clinical guideline will not change any of your recommendations.
If you are a patient who is at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, you should still continue to seek advice from your gastroenterologist, keep up with your routine screenings, maintain any recommended diet changes, and generally stay on top of your health. Even if your risk is higher, prevention is still the key to avoiding a negative outcome.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
Unfortunately, colorectal cancer does not always show symptoms until the patient has reached the later, less treatable stages of the disease. However, uncommonly, some patients do experience signs of colorectal cancer early on, including finding traces of blood in their stool, unexplained weight loss, a change in bowel shape, size, or habits, and abdominal pain. All patients experiencing symptoms that match these telltale signs should seek guidance from their doctor regardless of whether or not they have recently been screened for colorectal cancer. Any and all changes in digestive health, especially those that appear suddenly, should be mentioned to your doctor.
Which Test is Right for You?
There are several different tests available for screening and diagnosing colorectal cancer, including both a colonoscopy, considered the “gold standard” of colorectal cancer tests, and a stool test, also called the fecal immunochemical test (FIT). There are benefits and drawbacks to all options, including those of convenience and cost, but only your doctor can help you decide which test the best option for you.
For patients who are of an average risk and have simply aged into the recommendation bracket for routine screening, this process can be difficult, unfamiliar, and a little confusing. At Premier Medical Group, our highly trained and specialized team of gastroenterologists have years of combined experience testing for and treating colorectal cancer, and can advise you on the best course of action, including deciding which colorectal screening test is the best fit for you, your lifestyle, and your risk profile.
If your test results are positive, your doctor will most likely recommend a colonoscopy so the issue can be explored in better detail, and any polyps found can be biopsied.
Premier Medical Group is Here to Help
At Premier Medical Group, improving your health and lowering your risk of colorectal is one of our top priorities. If the new colorectal cancer screening recommendation now includes you or a loved one in your care, give us a call. Our expert team of gastroenterologists are here and ready to answer any questions you or your family may have.