People age 45 and younger should start getting screened for colorectal cancers, the American Cancer Society is urging in its newly updated guidelines.
The US association has lowered the age it recommends Americans to get screened by five years amid surging rates of bowel cancers in young people.
Once thought to be diseases of old age, colorectal cancer rates have been falling among older people, but have increased by 51 percent in those under 50 since 1994.
In light of this alarming trend, the American Cancer Society is now urging people 45 and over to get annual stool and blood exams, and, if necessary, a colonoscopy.
Rates of colorectal cancer have surged by more than 50 percent in people under 50, prompting the American Cancer Society to lower the screening age to 45 in its new guidelines
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 140,250 new cases of colon and rectal cancers will be diagnosed this year.
Each year, the disease, which is the fourth most deadly cancer in the US, kills 50,000 people.
Since 2000, older Americans have actually been faring better against colorectal cancers, with diagnosis rates among among the general population falling by more than 40 percent since the early 1990s.
Though its decline has been less precipitous, fewer Americans overall are dying of the disease too.
Many experts credit awareness campaigns and broader screening for driving down these numbers.
But, until now, the latter measure only applied to those who were 50 or older.
Meanwhile, Americans in their 20s and 30s have been dying of the cancer that neither they nor their doctors would have previously thought to worry about.
Now, 10 percent of new colorectal cancer patients are younger than 50, according to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance (CCA).
Anyone born after 1990 is thought to be at twice the risk of colon cancer as older adults and at four times the risk of rectal cancer.
Worse yet, because the disease has not historically been a concern for younger people, it is often misdiagnosed – sometimes for several years – meaning that by the time they start treatment, their cancers are more often already in advanced stages.
Between 15 and 50 percent of these patients’ diagnoses are delayed because their doctors missed or misinterpreted the warning signs, the CCA estimates.
Scientists are scrambling to figure out why this particular cancer is killing younger people, but this remains a largely a mystery.
Some have suggested overall gut health is a factor, and many blame the obesity epidemic and poor Western diet that has Americans consuming large quantities of highly processed food.
Whatever may be driving the trend, US health officials and organizations are urging doctors and patients to take early action against these cancers.
Historically, bowel cancers have also disproportionately affected certain minorities in the US, including Alaska Natives, Native Americans and black people.
But now, the American Cancer Society is prioritizing age as a risk factor over race.
‘When we began this guideline update, we were initially focused on whether screening should begin earlier in racial subgroups with higher colorectal cancer incidence, which some organizations already recommend,’ said Dr Richard Wender of the American Cancer Society.
‘But as we saw data pointing to a persistent trend of increasing colorectal cancer incidence in younger adults, including American Cancer Society research that indicated this effect would carry forward with increasing age, we decided to reevaluate the age to initiate screening in all US adults,’ he added.