There is a lot of confusion about when is the right age to get screened for colon cancer. As a matter of fact, even the experts differed on the best age to recommend screening. That’s why they turned to the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). This is a group of scientists and doctors who look at all the available information and decide how to best prevent disease in the US.
What is a screening test?
First of all, we need to define what a “screening test” is. A screening test is used by doctors to look for disease before you have any symptoms. The idea is that if you catch it before it is far enough along to cause symptoms, you’ll have a better chance of curing the disease- or maybe even prevent the disease from happening. If you have any symptoms or are at increased risk for a disease, then you need to have a diagnostic test.
Get screened starting at age 45
In 2021, USPSTF recommended that everyone aged 45-75 should get a screening test for colon cancer. They found that when screening was done in people over 50 years old (the age they used to recommend), the risk of dying from colon cancer actually went down. At the same time, they found that the rate of colon cancer was increasing in people younger than 50 years old.
What if you are older than 75?
Depending on your health and whether you’ve had an abnormal test in the past, you might still want to get screened on a regular basis. If you’ve had an abnormal screening test in the past or if you’ve had colon cancer, your doctor will probably recommend that you continue getting tested regularly. Sometimes people decide that they don’t want to continue with the screenings after 75, especially if they have other serious health concerns. You can talk to your healthcare provider and they will help you figure out whether to continue screening or not.
After the age of 86, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to getting screened. You can completely stop testing at that age. The best news is that you’ve outlived most of the people in the country!
What if I have risk factors for colon cancer?
Things that can increase your risk for colon cancer include:
- Age: older age = greater risk
- Race: increased risk in Black Americans, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
- Family history of Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), polyps or colon cancer
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Other risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, smoking, and excessive alcohol use.
If you have any of these risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about getting screened before 45 years of age. People with a family history of some genetic disorders like FAP or Lynch syndrome should start getting tested as early as 20 years of age. Make sure you tell your healthcare provider about any family history of cancer, especially colon cancer.
Follow this link to download a handy chart to track your family history. Print it out, then talk to your family members. Once you have it filled out, share it with your family members so that they are aware of your family’s risk. You can share it with your doctor, too.
What if I have symptoms of colon cancer?
Many people who are diagnosed with colon cancer have no symptoms at all. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider right away.
- Change in bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- Feeling like you need to have a bowel movement which is not relieved by having one
- Bright red blood in your stool
- Darker than usual stools
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Weakness or constant fatigue
- Weight loss without dieting
There are a lot of different ways to get screened for colon cancer. These include several different stool tests, CT scans and even colonoscopy. How often you need to repeat the screening test depends on which one you use. We’ll talk about the different test options and how often they need to be repeated in another blog post.
The bottom line is that colon cancer is one of the top causes of cancer deaths in the US. Screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from this common disease. Screening is recommended starting at age 45 for those people at average risk. So make sure you check it for someone you love. CheckIt4Andretti.
- Colon cancer screening saves lives!
- Every American between 45-75 years of age should be screened for colon cancer, even if you don’t have any risk factors.
- People between 76-85 years old should talk to their doctor about whether screening would be helpful.
- People who are younger than 45 who have symptoms or risk factors should talk to their doctor to decide the best course of action.