Waiting until age 50 to get tested for colorectal cancer? You might want to rethink that plan, especially if you’re African American or have other risk factors for the disease. For one thing, experts recommend minority populations most at risk begin colorectal screening at age 45, rather than 50. Secondly, diagnoses of colorectal cancer are on the rise among younger adults.
“Years ago it was practically unheard of to see a patient younger than 40 with colorectal cancer,” says surgical oncologist Steven Nurkin, MD, FACS of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) in Buffalo, N.Y. “Today, we are seeing it more often.”
Why Screening Works
Screening detects colorectal cancer at early and highly treatable stages, when survival is near 90%. Even better, screening prevents many colorectal cancers. Colorectal cancer typically develops from small overgrowths of tissue in the colon lining called polyps. Detecting and removing these polyps, effectively prevents future cancer. It’s always better to prevent cancer than to treat it.
Who Should be Screened Earlier?
That age 50 mark is meant for people at “average risk,” meaning they don’t have any family history of the disease or other risk factors. You may need to begin screening sooner if any of the following apply to you:
• A family history of colorectal cancer
• A personal history of colorectal polyps
• A personal history of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer
• An inflammatory colon condition (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
Digging deeper into your personal and family histories may yield clues that suggest a “high risk” for the disease. These clues include having yourself a family member diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a young age (younger than 50), more than 20 prior colon polyps, precancerous or rare types of colon polyps, or a genetic syndrome, such as Lynch Syndrome or Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP).
“You need more than the knowledge that you’re high risk,” says Dr. Nurkin. “You need to know what you can do about it today to manage that risk and what steps you might take to prevent a future cancer diagnosis.”
Regardless of your risk level, everyone needs to be checked for colorectal cancer. While African Americans get colorectal cancer more often, all non-whites are at greater risk of being diagnosed at a later stage. When this happens, treatment options are limited and survival is not as likely.
Get Answers from the Experts
If you’re at high risk for colorectal cancer or have a family member diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you may have questions about how often you should be screened, what types of screening tests are appropriate, and whether your family members are also at high risk. Participate in Roswell Park’s Colorectal Cancer Talk web chat from 6-7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24 and ask RPCI’s experts your questions. You’ll have a chance to submit your questions during the Web chat – just log on to: www.roswellpark.org/colorectalcancertalk.
You’ll hear from Nicoleta Voian, MD, MPH, Director of the Clinical Genetics Service; Andrew Bain, MD, Co-Chief of Endoscopy; and Steven Nurkin, MD, MS, FACS, Department of Surgical Oncology. You may submit questions before the program begins, or while it is underway. (Viewers’ questions will be answered as time permits.) If you are not able to watch the Web chat live, no worries — a video of the complete program will be posted on the RPCI website later so you can watch it at your convenience. Register for the video chat and pre-submit your questions at: www. RoswellPark.org/ColorectalCancerTalk.