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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is considering a draft recommendation to lower the suggested screening age for colorectal cancer to 45, five years earlier than the previously recommended. The task force will take public comments into consideration before making its final recommendation in the coming months.

The new guidelines could benefit younger patients as most insurance companies cover procedures based on USPSTF recommendations.

“The majority of colorectal cancers in these younger patients appears to be sporadic and we have yet to identify who is at the greatest risk and who should be more aggressively screened,” said Dr. Mark Friedman, a gastroenterologist in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Department. “As we continue to learn more about early onset colorectal cancer, we will be able to establish evidence based and cost-effective screening guidelines.  But it is certainly a step in the right direction and acknowledging that we have a new problem in younger patients.”

In 2018 the American Cancer Society made the same recommendation after multiple studies found rising rates of colon cancer in people under 50. From 2012 to 2016, incidence rates in that age group rose by 2.2% each year. While death rates decreased 3% per year among patients 65 and older between 2008 and 2017, they increased 1.3% in those under 50.

The new guidelines are for men and women ages 45 to 75 of average risk of colon cancer. Recommendations are different for people with inflammatory bowel diseases or a family history of colon cancer.  Screening for African Americans has historically been recommended at age 45.

“People should know that colon cancer is a preventable disease,” Friedman said.  “If a patient is screened appropriately, early detection and treatment drastically improves outcomes. Colon cancer can affect all genders and races and people should talk to their healthcare providers about when they should start screening.”

If a patient is screened appropriately, early detection and treatment drastically improves outcomes.
Dr. Mark Friedman, Gastrointestinal Oncology

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the U.S. It’s estimated the disease will kill more than 53,000 people this year.

Colon cancer made headlines in August when actor Chadwick Boseman died at the age of 43. The “Black Panther” star was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2016 and lived with the disease for four years as it progressed to stage 4.

Despite evidence that screening for colorectal cancer is effective, about a quarter of people ages 50 to 75 have never been screened, according to the USPSTF.

Because colon cancer is one of the only cancers that can be easily and reliably detected in people who do not have symptoms, Moffitt encourages patients to stay up-to-date with their screenings.