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Doctor: Why younger people should plan for colon cancer screenings

“Colonoscopy is important because not only is it diagnostic but it can also be a treatment."

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer here in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women.

Dr. Sarah Smith, a Family Medicine Physician with WellMed explains younger populations need to start planning for screenings. 

“It’s still most common in the older age groups like 65 to 70; however, recently there have been more cases in younger groups.” 

Some in those younger groups, have had advanced disease, explains Smith. With that in mind, the United States Preventive Services Taskforce has decreased the recommended age for screening from 50 to 45.

For testing at home, the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), screens for colon cancer. 

“It looks for the DNA that causes colon cancer,” says Smith. If that test is negative, you’re often clear for three years. But, if an at-home test is positive for the disease, a colonoscopy is the second step and is still considered the gold standard of screening. 

“Colonoscopy is important because not only is it diagnostic but it can also be a treatment,” Smith explains. She says if there is a polyp or something seen, it can often be removed. The colonoscopy screening clears most patients for 10 years.

Smith says COVID-19 delayed a number of patient screenings, so if you put it off during the pandemic, talk to your doctor about scheduling an appointment, or consider a FIT test. When it comes to increased risk factors, Smith says smoking, alcohol use and poor diet, including processed meats, can all play a role.