For quite some time, it’s been a well-known fact by doctors and patients alike that the first colon cancer screening should be performed at age 50. Recently the American Cancer Society changed this long-standing rule, now saying that all patients—both women and men—should have their first colon cancer screening by age 45. However, while doctors and cancer societies are on board with the new guidelines, not all insurance companies are. No insurance company has come forward making an official statement on the change, so it’s unfortunately up to each patient to determine their official coverage before age 50. Before scheduling a screening, make sure to speak with your insurance company to make sure the procedure is covered.

No matter your age or gender, there are a few things you should know about colon cancer risks, signs, and symptoms, whether you’ve crossed the 45-year-old threshold or not. 

Knowing the Risks

Knowing the risks beforehand is one of the most important things you can do for yourself in the form of preventative medicine. Having a wealth of self-knowledge when it comes to colon cancer screening can protect you later on.

One of the first adjustments you can make is to your diet. A diet high in red meat (such as beef, pork, and lamb) has been proven to have links and correlations with colorectal cancer. It’s also the way that you cook the meats that can be a problem. While the reason is still unknown to scientists, cooking specific meats at extremely high temperatures causes the production of cancer-causing chemicals. So while you don’t have to immediately switch to a vegetarian diet, it’s best to limit your red meat intake and look elsewhere for protein (like poultry or quinoa).

Regardless of your diet, being obese or overweight is also a high risk factor for colorectal cancer, as well as smoking and heavy drinking.

There are some risks that you cannot change, but if you’re able to tell your doctor about these risk factors, it may help you later on. If you or someone in your family has suffered from type 2 diabetes, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease, you should let your doctor know right away.

Symptoms to Look Out For

If you have the beginning stages of colon cancer, it’s possible to stop it before it moves into later stages by simply knowing some symptoms. Especially if you’re 45 and over, you should talk to your physician immediately if you’re suffering from any of the following.

A sudden change in bowel movements or a sudden change in weight is often a colon cancer symptom. This is indicated by diarrhea or constipation that won’t go away, or a sudden drop in weight. Any changes in the rectum or anus is also cause for concern, such as rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, or stomach cramps. No matter your age, it may be time for a colorectal screening if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms.

A Sudden Rise in Young People

Part of the reason why the American Cancer Society is changing the guidelines for colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45 is because of the rise of colon cancer in younger people, both men and women. A February 2107 study by the American Cancer Society showed that the death rate from colorectal cancer was on the rise. There are more and more diagnoses as well, with a 51 percent increase in colorectal cancer under age 50 since 1994.

For more information about colon cancer screenings, symptoms, or how to prevent colon cancer, schedule an appointment today with Cary Gastroenterology. You’ll be glad you did!