Christopher DiMaio, MD, Chair of Gastroenterology at St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center®, shares how colorectal cancer screenings are significantly important as people under the age of 50 are increasingly being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
"I tell my patients who are age 45 and older that they should get a colonoscopy," said Dr. DiMaio. "Those at higher risk, including people with a family history of colorectal cancer, may need screenings earlier."
Why are colorectal cancer screenings important?
American Cancer Society guidelines recommend that average-risk adults aged 45 years and older undergo a colorectal cancer screening and continue to do so regularly until the age of 75.
The guidelines previously recommended that screenings begin at age 50. But data from the National Cancer Institute shows that the rate of colorectal cancer for people under the age of 50 increased by more than 60 percent between 1990 and 2018. The rate for adults over the age of 50 fell nearly 50 percent during the same time period.
With early onset colon cancer, the tumor tends to be at a more advanced stage compared to colon cancers found in adults older than age 50. That’s in part because colon cancer screening is typically not indicated in average risk younger patients. These patients may not be prompted to get a medical checkup until they have developed symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding or change in bowel movements.
In younger adults, these cancers have a different genetic fingerprint compared to the cancers that a typical 65-year-old would get. There is something biologically different. At this time, we don’t know what’s driving that or the associated risk factors.
That makes screenings even more important.
What are the types of screenings?
The most common screening for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy, a procedure in which a specialized camera is inserted inside the rectum and colon to look for precancerous polyps or colon cancer. Pre-cancerous polyps can be removed by a physician during the colonoscopy.
Some patients balk at getting colonoscopies and may elect to take an at-home stool test. But it’s important to know that at-home tests may miss early, small lesions that colonoscopies can detect.
Schedule your screening today. Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.