Guidelines exist for a reason, but they are not always sufficient in providing uniform results. A child could be ready for kindergarten at age 4. Some teenagers are not responsible enough to drive until they turn 17 — or later! And many adults need a colonoscopy before their fiftieth birthday.
According to a study published in JAMA in August 2017, colon cancer rates have been increasing among adults under the age of 55 since the mid-1990s. Even though colon cancer incidence is declining overall, younger people are dying of colon cancer at higher rates than in years past. Among 20 to 54-year-olds, the death rate has risen to 4.3 per 100,000 in 2014 compared to 3.9 per 100,000 in 2004.
Even so, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has not altered the recommended age for baseline colonoscopies for men and women who are at average risk for colon cancer. It remains at 50 years of age, unless you exhibit specific risk factors like a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of colon polyps. Unfortunately, most cases of colon cancer are not inherited and are difficult to diagnose without colonoscopy. There are also very few warning signs of colon cancer, so a younger person with developing colon cancer could be completely asymptomatic until the disease reaches an advanced stage.
Colon cancer is preventable with routine colonoscopies, but experts disagree about the age at which screenings should begin and the intervals at which they should occur. Some doctors are concerned about the invasiveness of colon screenings and believe that earlier screening would put individuals at unnecessary risk. Others assert that lowering the screening age will ultimately save lives and that the risk is well-worth the life-saving benefits of screening.
Whether the guidelines change or remain consistent, you can take action against colon cancer. Take some time to educate yourself and your family members about
- the risk factors for colon cancer
- the warning signs of colon cancer
- colon cancer screening options (colonoscopy is the most comprehensive, accurate screening)
- lifestyle changes to prevent colon cancer
Anyone can develop colon cancer, and you are never too young to be affected by the disease. If you notice any changes in your bowel habits or experience ongoing symptoms like abdominal cramping, pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhea or anemia, call your doctor. Early diagnosis means early intervention.