In 2024, the American Cancer Society predicts that roughly 152,810 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 53,010 lives will be lost. By 2030, diagnoses among people under the age of 50 are expected to increase by more than 140%, and colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer-related death in Americans aged 20 to 49.

“Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in males and the second most common cancer in females worldwide. It commonly presents with subtle symptoms such as a change in bowel habits but can also cause rectal bleeding and/or anemia. It is preventable with various options available for screening, including stool testing and colonoscopy. A positive stool test does warrant a colonoscopy.

During the colonoscopy, your doctor will look for and remove polyps, which are pre-cancerous lesions. Screening starts at age 45 for everyone, but can be earlier for high-risk individuals such as those with a family history of colon cancer in first-degree relatives or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease. It is extremely important to do colorectal cancer screenings at the right time, especially considering the recent increase in incidence in younger populations less than 50 years of age.“

Umair Masood, MD
Gastroenterology, Catholic Health

Colorectal Cancer Stats and Facts

Despite the severity of these statistics, colorectal cancer remains one of the most treatable cancers, even curable if found early enough. Anyone experiencing worrying symptoms should speak with their doctor immediately without fear of embarrassment. Remember, your doctor has seen and heard it all, and they are there to help you.

Cancer can have the same Symptoms as Other Illnesses

One of the more alarming facts about cancer is that symptoms can often be mistaken for something else. Without proper testing and screening, cancer can go undetected and metastasize or spread to other organs and areas of the body. When this happens, it means the cancer is most likely to be stage 4 and will require very aggressive treatment, or it is too advanced, and the patient is considered terminal.

45 is the New 50

Current guidelines suggest individuals who are average risk get screened at the age of 45 instead of 50. A family history of colorectal cancer puts you at a higher risk of developing the disease, so you should be tested sooner. If an immediate family member such as a parent or sibling were diagnosed, you should be screened ten years before the age your family member was when they were diagnosed. So, if your father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at the age of 50, you should begin screenings at the age of 40.

African Americans are Disproportionately Affected by Colorectal Cancer

African Americans are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with and die of colorectal cancer than any other racial group. They are also more likely to develop the cancer at a younger age and be diagnosed at a later stage. Disparities in healthcare, like being uninsured or underinsured, lack of awareness, and access to screenings are just some of the factors that doctors believe are behind the higher incidence rates in African Americans.

Screening Colonoscopies are Covered by Insurance

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a screening colonoscopy is considered a preventative service and insurance companies must cover the cost in full. It’s important to note that there are screening colonoscopies and diagnostic colonoscopies. Screening colonoscopies are performed if you have no family history of colorectal cancer and no gastrointestinal problems. A diagnostic colonoscopy is done if you have symptoms of colorectal cancer, had a positive result from a stool-based test, or if a previous colonoscopy showed polyps. Diagnostic colonoscopies may not be paid for in full, so it’s best you know your insurance policy beforehand. Catholic Health offers financial assistance to those who need but cannot afford medically necessary services through our Healthcare Assistance Program. Patients experiencing financial difficulty or are uninsured should not have to give up life-saving, quality care. Our Patient Financial Services Team can help you apply for assistance or find a healthcare coverage plan through federal or state programs.

Colorectal Cancer is Preventable

The reason colonoscopies are considered the “gold standard” is because the procedure allows your doctor to find and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Polyps are small growths that develop along the colon and rectal lining. A concerning trend doctors are seeing in many of their younger patients is that they live healthy lifestyles and show no signs of colorectal cancer. Doctors cannot stress this enough: prevention is critical because early detection saves lives.

Talk to your Provider About Screenings

The reasoning behind the increase in younger colorectal cancer patients is still unknown, but education and prevention are still within our power. Despite the life-saving benefits of a colonoscopy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 20% of the U.S. population who should be screened never get tested. The prep before a colonoscopy can be unpleasant, but it is well worth it for the sake of your health.

Not having a family history or assuming you are too young for colorectal cancer should never be a reason to avoid getting screened. Colorectal cancer can happen to anyone, and it’s crucial you speak with your physician about when to start screening.

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