Health panel proposes colon cancer tests start at 45, not 50

NEW YORK – A panel of health experts wants U.S. adults to start getting colon cancer screenings at age 45, five years younger than it previously recommended.

While overall, colon cancer rates have been declining, the draft guidelines issued Tuesday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reflect a growing concern about rising rates in people under the age of 50.

“We’ve seen more data showing that younger people are getting colon cancer at higher rates," said Dr. Alex Krist, a family doctor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a member of the task force. "Basically a 45-year-old today has the same risk of getting colon cancer as a 50-year-old from years past.”

The task force is a volunteer panel of doctors that regularly reviews evidence and issues advice on medical tests and treatments.

The group is proposing that adults of average risk for colon cancer be screened from ages 45 to 75. How often the tests are done depends on the type of screening: a colonoscopy is usually every five to 10 years while stool-based tests are every year. After age 75, the task force says screening decisions should be made on an individual basis.

“Most people who get colon cancer have no signs, no symptoms and no risks. And so that’s why we recommend that everyone get screened,” Krist said.

The task force advice on screening doesn't apply to those with colon cancer, polyps or a family history of colon cancer or genetic disorders that increase their risk. Tuesday's proposal also emphasizes that the disease occurs more often, is screened for less and leads to more deaths in Black adults.

Colon cancer, along with rectal cancer, is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., with an estimated 148,000 new cases this year.