Juggling a career, family and personal time can be a challenge. We know life is busy, but making time for your regular exam and getting recommended screenings can help catch problems before they start. That’s why you should know about the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) recently updated screening guidelines for colorectal cancer. The ACS is now recommending that adults at average risk for the disease start screening at age 45, instead of age 50.
The ACS based its decision on evidence from research, which showed that colorectal cancer rates are rising in younger adults. The organization decided on age 45 after taking into account the risks and benefits of screening people ages 45-49.
The guidelines still recommend screenings up to age 75 in otherwise healthy adults. People older than 75 should speak with their doctor to determine if they need to continue testing. Adults ages 85 and older don’t need to be screened for the disease.
Taking a closer look
Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer often have no symptoms. This makes screenings a vital part of maintaining good health.
In an effort to encourage screening, the ACS isn’t endorsing one test over another. Instead, it recommends people choose a method based on consultation with their doctor. Any of the following six tests are acceptable.
• Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year.
• High sensitivity guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (HSgFOBT) every year.
• Multi-target stool DNA test (MT-sDNA) every three years.
• CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every five years.
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
• Colonoscopy every 10 years.
If you have abnormal test results from a test other than a colonoscopy, it’s crucial to schedule a follow-up colonoscopy as soon as possible, says the ACS.
What to know
Colorectal cancer is more common in adults ages 50 and older, however the disease can affect anyone at any age. Be sure to discuss your personal and family medical history with your doctor.
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Make an appointment with your provider if you have any of the following symptoms:
• Unexplained weight loss.
• Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, narrow stools) that last longer than a few days.
• Rectal bleeding.
• Blood in your stool.
• Abdominal pain or cramping.
• Extreme weakness and fatigue.
What’s your risk?
While you can’t control some risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as your age, race or ethnicity, or having inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes and some inherited conditions, you can lower your risk by choosing a healthy lifestyle, including:
• Eating whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables (at least 2 ½ cups a day), and limiting red meat and processed meats.
• Avoiding alcohol or limiting it to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
• Getting regular physical activity, including at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (or a combination of both) each week.
• Not smoking. Smoking is linked to several types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.
• Losing weight if needed, or maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or having obesity are linked to colorectal cancer.
Dr. Jeremy Albin is a board-certified general surgeon with Columbus General Surgery.