Earlier in 2018, the American Cancer Society updated their colorectal cancer screening guidelines, in the wake of many adults younger than age 50 being diagnosed with the disease. Prior to May 2018, the recommended guideline for the first colon cancer screening was a first colonoscopy at age 50, and now it has been lowered to age 45. Read on to learn more about colorectal cancer screenings, and why it’s important for everyone to learn the symptoms of, and risks for developing, colon cancer.

Updated Guidelines

On of the reasons the American Cancer Society updated their guidelines is because of a large number of cases of colorectal cancer in younger adults in recent years. Like any other forms of cancer, colorectal cancer is best treated if it is caught early. There are several different types of colorectal cancer screenings, however, it is always best to have these tests performed under the guidance of a physician as opposed to an at-home test. The most common type of colon cancer screening is a colonoscopy. Having a colonoscopy performed allows the physician to check for possible cancerous polyps. With this early detection, pre-cancerous polyps can be removed before they progress into cancer.  

Trends in Younger Patients

There has been no clear connection between genetic predisposition or family history of colon cancer and the sudden spike in younger patients being diagnosed with the disease. Doctors, such as Dr. Kimmie Ng of the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, believe that part of the progression is due to a higher-than-normal intake of processed foods and a poor diet. These behavioral changes are certainly bad habits that can be broken, thus lowering the chances of developing colon cancer under the age of 50.

Preventative Medicine

Because the link between colon cancer in younger patients is likely correlated with lifestyle decisions, there are measures you can take to help prevent your colon cancer risk. First, doctors suggest regular screenings, beginning at age 45, according to the new guidelines. This applies to both men and women and refers to you receiving a professional test through your physician’s office–not a take-home kit. At-home tests do not always catch all instances of pre-cancer problems and are not as accurate as a colonoscopy.

Secondly, changes in diet are quite important. You’ll often hear doctors or health professionals tout a healthy diet with lots of fiber and leafy greens, and this is in fact what you need to help keep colon cancer at bay. A good rule of thumb is to remember to “eat a rainbow” of fruits and vegetables daily. Processed meats and red meats have been strongly linked to the prevalence of colon cancer in recent years, especially in women. Limit red and processed meat intake as much as possible.

Other lifestyle changes include quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption to a moderate amount per week. The CDC recommends one drink per day for women, and two for men, not to exceed three (women) or four (men) in one sitting. Being physically active can also prevent colon cancer. High-impact exercise is best, but just getting up and moving, or taking short walks, can also help.

If you have a history of colon cancer or other cancer types in your family, it’s best to mention this to your physician as soon as possible. Depending on your particular case, you may be advised to have a colorectal cancer screening even earlier than age 45. Talk to your doctor to be sure. If you need more information on colon cancer prevention or would like to hear more about colonoscopy procedures, schedule an appointment today at GI Associates. With three convenient locations, we now offer the HyGIeaCare prep for colonoscopies, making the screening even easier.

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