Colorectal cancer screening to start at younger age

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer combines both colon cancer and rectal cancer – a type of cancer that begins in the human rectum.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • Age could be lowered further due to the notable number of fatalities aged between 45 and 49, says expert
  • Colorectal cancer is currently the third most common cancer worldwide

Up until now, screening for colorectal cancer has been targeting adults aged 50 years and above.

This is the category of people who have been hitherto considered at risk. This is now set to change after recommendations from two prominent bodies in the US.

To begin with, the US Preventive Services Task Force and oncology researchers from the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute have recommended that the age for screening be lowered by five years to 45. This recommendation has been adopted by the American Cancer Society.

This lowering of the target age for screening of colorectal cancer follows a sharp increase in the number of younger people, who are getting diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“There is evidence of increase in colorectal cancer incidents among people aged below 50. Between 2020 and 2021, we have seen an increase of 11 per cent in colon cancers and 15 per cent in rectal cancers among people outside the screening age,” said Dr Kimmie Ng, who led the team of oncology scientists in making the recommendations.

According to Dr Ng, the lowering of the screening age is aimed at making screening available to more people and helping to identify this cancer in the earliest stage possible.

“We have found out that initiating screening for colorectal cancer at the age of 45 averts more cancer deaths than initiating screening at the age of 50. There are also slight complications from the colonoscopy procedure,” said Dr Ng.

Late stages

He added that there was a chance that this age could be lowered further due to the notable number of fatalities aged between 45 and 49.

“We are now seeing patients in their 20s and 30s who are being diagnosed with this cancer at very late stages. However, the majority of young-onset colorectal cancer diagnoses and deaths occur between 45 and 49 years,” said Dr Ng in the study published in the medical journal JAMA.

According to the American Cancer Society, the increase of colorectal cancer cases among younger adults is largely due to increases in body weight and changes in gastrointestinal bacteria. At the same time, the number of colorectal cases from inherited causes is also getting higher among younger people.

Colorectal cancer is currently the third most common cancer worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. It is also referred to as cancer of the colon.

Medical journal, Mayo Clinic, says that unlike colon cancer, colorectal cancer combines both colon cancer and rectal cancer – a type of cancer that begins in the human rectum.

In Kenya, colon cancer is among the top cancers affecting both men and women.

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