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Screen by 45 to Thrive!

Hitting Cancer Below the Belt (HCB2) enthusiastically supports the current efforts to lower the colorectal cancer screening age to 45 for everyone of average risk. To be clear, the current recommendations state that those in the Black community need to begin screening by age 45 due to the documented, higher risk many face with this disease. The current recommendation for all others of average risk is to begin screening by age 50. 

Regardless of your age, HCB2 actively encourages all community members to be mindful of their GI symptoms and family history. When one is experiencing symptoms such as blood in the stool, thin or flat stools, chronic constipation and/or diarrhea, persistent belly pain or bloating, or loss of weight, it is important to pursue medical attention as soon as possible. Screening also needs to begin earlier if one has a family member who has experienced colorectal cancer or persistently has polyps removed during their routine colonoscopy procedure. Lastly, the age whether 45 or 50 is not the time to just begin thinking about testing, it is the deadline to get the test! Please do not hesitate to talk with your provider and pursue screening by this age or possibly earlier depending on family history and other risk factors. Age should not be the only determiner for early detection.

Why should the recommended screening age for those at average risk be lowered? We know diagnosis of colorectal cancer is rising in younger populations. Recent data reveals men and women born after 1990 are 4x more likely to be diagnosed with rectal cancer and 2x more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer. The statistics have been showing a 44% increase of colorectal cancer diagnoses in people under age 50 since 1996. To add to the urgency, research shows 65% of young people are diagnosed in the later stages where survival from 5 years of diagnosis is an estimated 14%. This late stage diagnosis may be due to a long delay in the initial diagnosis as some may not understand they are at risk for this disease at a young age and their provider may not believe cancer is a possibility either due to an individual’s age.

Who is responsible for the push to lower screening age? Large national organizations have taken notice and are beginning the conversation to lower the colorectal cancer screening age for all of average risk. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the Fight CRC foundation, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation have held meetings to address this critical issue and to enact policy at state levels to increase access to timely colorectal cancer screening. They report Kentucky, Maine, and Indiana have already adopted the American Cancer Society’s guideline to begin screening by age 45 for everyone of average risk. They also affirm the recommendation that higher risk individuals should be screened earlier. Again, knowing your family history and being mindful of your bodily symptoms will help determine what screening schedule, and type of screening test, is best for you. 

Most recently, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) drafted new guidelines for screening and now recommends screening begin at age 45, at the latest, for all people. The USPSTF sets these screening guidelines and most insurance companies will adhere to these and other recommendations to cover the cost of preventive screening. Their current recommendation is in draft mode and we eagerly await the final approval in 2021.  

HCB2 gives high priority to the importance of screening and encourages conversation about an  “uncomfortable” subject because we want to create an environment where colorectal cancer diagnosis is significantly reduced due to timely intervention. We have experienced too many stories of young people passing, including beloved 

Rich, Gabe, Neil and Jennifer. We have also had the privilege of working alongside colorectal cancer thrivers like LeAnn, Sarah, John, Kathi, and Sharon and so many more. With their stories and voices, HCB2 actively works to increase timely colorectal cancer screening through our Can We Talk? initiative. This work includes the funding of eight medical clinics and their colorectal cancer screening programs, conducting large community education and screening initiatives, providing risk pre-assessment during appearances with our inflatable colon, giving virtual and on-site presentations for civic groups, businesses, schools, and small groups, and last, but not least creating Public Service Announcements/PSAs and podcasts for those in the Central VA area and beyond.

Can We Talk? was created because of the silence that persists around colorectal cancer. The symptoms are often silent. The patient experiencing symptoms may be silent because it can be generally uncomfortable or embarrassing to discuss, even with their medical provider. The provider may be silent about recommending screening and sharing screening options with the patient due to too little time and inadvertently overlooking symptoms and risks in younger people.This has got to stop! No matter the recommended screening age adopted by each state, colorectal cancer will continue to take loved ones lives if the silence is not broken. HCB2 has identified this challenge and takes steps in every program, service, and educational message to break through the wall of silence and move people to become more proactive with their wellness. We hope to keep this conversation going with you. Leave a comment and let us know how we can serve you and our community.

This information is provided as part of our Can We Talk? initiative. To learn more, click here.