The Task Force announced Tuesday morning their proposal to lower the suggested age for when to start colorectal screenings, moving it up five years, from 50, to 45 years old. The move may indicate a growing call for awareness and accelerate action amongst an age group that may not know they’re at risk.
“The prognosis is so much better if you catch it at an earlier stage,” Dr. Kimmie Ng, the director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told ABC News. “These new guidelines are hugely significant. They support and validate the alarming epidemiologic trends we’ve been seeing: This cancer is rising at about a rate of 2% per year, in people under the age of 50, since the 1990s.”
Colorectal cancer impacts the gastrointestinal system’s final segment. While lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., colorectal cancer comes second, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and yet, it remains one of the most treatable, even curable cancers, when caught in its early stages.
“Way too young” were the words resounding across the globe late this summer, when news broke that actor Chadwick Boseman, at just 43 years old, had died of colon cancer. Boseman had kept his long, difficult battle mostly private, but the shock of his loss was compounded by a common misconception: that the disease only strikes older people.
Even though overall incidence and mortality rates for colorectal cancer have decreased over the past few decades, colorectal cancer deaths among younger adults continue to climb. It’s a concerning trend, experts told ABC News, pointing out the importance of testing and early intervention.
In 2018, the American Cancer Society updated their guidelines, recommending that those at average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screening at age 45. Experts hope the Task Force’s update shines a light on the importance of the issue.
For years prior, screening was not generally recommended for the below-50 crowd. This led to potentially vulnerable, or even sick adults putting off testing thinking their symptoms did not rise to the level of firm diagnosis. Because of this lack of awareness, pernicious, possibly cancerous growths remained undetected for too long, experts say, and now, young patients are suffering from more advanced, harder to treat cancers.
“Cancer is simply not on their radar,” Ng said, speaking more specifically about colon cancer. “They’re otherwise young and healthy. So we need to emphasize that yes, this can happen in young people.”
Nearly 25% of screening-eligible Americans have never been screened for colon cancer, and yet, it is expected to cause over 53,000 American deaths this year alone. Of the roughly 148,000 individuals who will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2020, about 18,000 of