Earlier screening age recommended for colon cancer

Henrietta Strickland
October 28, 2020

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that people aged 50 to 75 be regularly screened for colon cancer, one of a handful of cancers that can be prevented outright.

When the USPSTF last updated its colon cancer guidelines in 2016, it kept the age at which screening begins at 50 because they were concerned about the strength of the data supporting an earlier start, explained Robert Smith, senior vice president of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society.

About 18,000 people under 50 are expected to be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer this year, representing about 12 percent of all U.S. cases in 2020. "We hope that this recommendation to screen people ages 45 to 75 for colorectal cancer will encourage more screening and reduce people's risk of dying from this disease". These screening tests detect the presence of these polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

"Unfortunately, not enough people in the US receive this effective preventive service that has been proven to save lives", Dr. Alex Krist, chair of the task force, said in a release.

Dr. Michael Barry, member of the task force, elaborated on the new guidance.

The guidance includes two screening tests: direct visualization and stool-based.

For adults over 75, the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis, per the panel.

The earlier start is expected to prevent at least one more death per every 1,000 screened, Barry said.

Colon cancer screening can lower risk of death from the disease
Colon cancer screening can lower risk of death from the disease

Tuesday's proposal also emphasizes that the disease occurs more often, is screened for less and leads to more deaths in black adults. "Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States", the agency says.

Dr. Alfredo Torres, of New York Cancer and Blood Specialists, says there are a number of reasons why colon cancer is striking in younger people.

'We've been anticipating this for a while, ' Smith said.

Rivadeneira says early stage colon cancer is extremely curable.

'That makes a huge difference to our patients'. Currently, one in four people between 50 and 75 have never been screened for the disease, and only about 60 percent of USA adults are up to date on their colon cancer screenings, Dr Krist said.

If the recommendations are finalized, screenings for younger people would be covered by most private insurance plans, with no copay. The task force will consider all comments it receives, and release a final recommendation shortly afterward.

The USPSTF is taking public comment on this draft recommendation from October 27 through November 23.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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