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The American Cancer Society is changing its guidelines on when to begin screening for colorectal cancer. The new recommendations say adults should start screening at age 45. NPR's Patti Neighmond has more.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Most doctor groups recommend screenings start at age 50, but times have changed. American Cancer Society official Dr. Richard Wender says colorectal cancer is on the rise among younger adults.
RICHARD WENDER: People born more recently, for example, in the '80s and '90s, are at higher risk to develop colon cancer, and particularly rectal cancer, than people born when I was born back in the '50s.
NEIGHMOND: And the increase is not just because detection is getting better.
WENDER: The actual risk of developing colon cancer is twice as high now as it was for people born in the '40s and '50s. And the risk for rectal cancer is actually four times higher.
NEIGHMOND: Why that is is something of a mystery.
WENDER: Some of it may be due in an increase in obesity rates, but we think that does not explain the entire change.
NEIGHMOND: Obesity is a traditional risk factor for colorectal cancer, along with smoking, alcohol, high-fat diets and inactivity. But Wender says researchers are now looking into other potential risk factors.
Gastroenterologist Robin B. Mendelsohn co-directs the recently established Center for Young Onset Colorectal Cancer in New York at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She says many patients just don't have the expected health problems.
ROBIN B. MENDELSOHN: In the last 10 years, we saw about 4,000 young onset patients here at Memorial. And we looked back, and they didn't have those risk factors. They were less likely to smoke. They were less likely to be overweight.
NEIGHMOND: Some were even marathon runners with very healthy diets.
MENDELSOHN: They sit there, and they say, I've done everything right. Why did this happen to me?
NEIGHMOND: Which is why Mendelsohn, along with other researchers nationwide, has launched a number of studies not only looking at diet, but also a number of other items to see if they're helpful or harmful.
MENDELSOHN: Medications - anti-inflammatories, multivitamins, different supplements, antidepressants, anti-anxieties, antibiotics, probiotics.
NEIGHMOND: Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society says there are six highly effective cancer screening tools. Among them, three take-home kits provided by the doctor that tests for blood in the stool, a type of CT scan often called a virtual colonoscopy, as well as the standard colonoscopy, which looks at the entire colon. Richard Wender.
WENDER: We're not just looking for early cancers. In fact, the most likely abnormal finding is a precancerous finding called a polyp. And when we find and remove those polyps, we actually prevent any future chance of that developing into cancer.
NEIGHMOND: A U.S. task force of independent experts still recommends screening start at age 50, but they say when they update those guidelines, they'll consider new evidence about colorectal cancer cases and deaths among younger adults. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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