HOUSTON – The average age to start getting colonoscopies has usually been 50. It worked so well to reduce cancer rates among people 50 and older, The American Cancer Society dropped the recommended age to begin screenings at 45.
Melanie Bass, 49, understands why screenings at a younger age could help save lives.
“You’re a healthy person and then you're told that you have colon cancer,” she described the shock of her diagnosis while in her 40s.
Melanie said she’s active, a healthy eater, and the matriarch of a loving family. So a cancer diagnosis left her with the frustrating question, "Why did this happen to me?"
Houston Methodist Dr. Eric Haas said cancer does not discriminate. Although, he says factors like age, environment and diet can make your chances worse, but anyone can get it. He said he's diagnosed colon cancer in patients even as young as their 20s.
“It's happening more and more at alarming rates,” Haas said.
“If we got you screened at age 45, this may have been a colonoscopy and your gastroenterologist may have come out of the room and said, 'Hey, I found a precancerous polyp, I removed it, I may have prevented colon cancer,’” Haas explained to Melanie.
The new guidelines could help millions of Americans in the population where colon cancer is on the rise: those younger than 50.
“Go ahead and get your colon cancer screening even as young as 45, but beyond that, if you’re having symptoms: bleeding, change in your bowel habits, unexpected weight loss,” he said. “Go to your healthcare provider really immediately and see if you need some sort of evaluation even younger.”
Melanie may never know when or why this happened to her but she says she plans to serve others by spreading awareness of colon cancer.
“I’ve got three children, two grandbabies, a lot to live for. So, I’m so glad I’m cancer free,” she said.
Now that the American Cancer Society officially recommends all people 45 and older to get this screening, there is nothing to stop insurance from covering the procedure. Remember, under the Affordable Care Act, preventative care is covered. However, make sure to check with insurance before you go since there's been no requirement specifically telling insurance to cover the costs of people younger than 50.