Colorectal Cancer: Is It Time to Rethink Screening?

Colorectal cancer affects many patients younger than recommended screening age

(RxWiki News) As the medical community learns more about different cancers and how they spread, doctors try to determine the best time to begin screening patients. New evidence suggests one type of cancer is affecting a younger group than expected.

A recent analysis of US data indicated that 1 in 7 colorectal cancer patients was younger than 50, the recommended age to begin screening for the disease. Although once thought of as a disease of the elderly, researchers said a higher percentage of younger adults have developed colorectal cancer in recent years.

For this study, Samantha Hendren, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry to look at the treatment patterns and outcomes of 258,024 colorectal cancer patients between 1998 and 2011.

Dr. Hendren and team found that nearly 15 percent of these patients were younger than 50.

These younger patients were more likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease and receive aggressive treatment than older patients. Younger patients with cancer that spread to other organs were also more likely to undergo surgery or radiation therapy.

Although they tended to have more advanced disease, younger colorectal cancer patients tended to live slightly longer without cancer recurrence than older patients.

Dr. Hendren calls this study a "wake-up call to the medical community," and encourages both patients and doctors to look for the warning signs of colorectal cancer, such as anemia (low red blood cell count), extreme change in bowel movements and blood in the stool.

"People with a positive family history for colorectal cancer (in first-degree relatives such as parents or siblings) and some others who are at higher risk should begin screening earlier than 50," Dr. Hendren said in a press release. "This is already recommended, but we don't think this is happening consistently, and this is something we need to optimize."

This study was published Jan. 25 in the journal CANCER.

The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons Research Foundation funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
January 22, 2016