By Dennis Thompson
TUESDAY, Oct. 27, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Average folks should start being screened at age 45 to prevent colon cancer, five years earlier than is now recommended, the nation’s top preventive medicine panel says.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends that people aged 50 to 75 be regularly screened for colon cancer, one of a handful of cancers that can be prevented outright.
But new data suggests that screening earlier could save even more lives, said task force member Dr. Michael Barry, director of the Informed Medical Decisions Program in the Health Decision Sciences Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“We have epidemiologic data that the risks of colorectal cancer are increasing before age 50, particularly in that 45- to 49-year-old age group,” Barry said.
Computer models suggest that about 25 colon cancer deaths are prevented for every 1,000 Americans between 50 and 75 who are screened, Barry said.
The earlier start is expected to prevent at least one more death per every 1,000 screened, Barry said.
Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies are required to cover the full cost of any screening test recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The task force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine.
This guideline covers people at average risk for colon cancer, Barry said. People with factors that put them at higher risk — for example, a strong family history of colon cancer — might need to start screening even earlier, and should discuss it with their doctor.
Colon cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps that form in the colon or rectum. These screening tests detect the presence of these polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.
Colonoscopy is the most widely known colon cancer screening method, but it’s not the only one, Barry said.
“There are a whole group of tests that can reduce the risk that someone will die of colorectal cancer,” he said.
For example, people can have their stool tested for the presence of tiny amounts of blood, which can indicate the presence of either cancer or polyps.