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Health Report: Age range lowered for colon cancer screenings due to better odds with early detection

Published: Jun. 1, 2021 at 3:39 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 3:40 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Health officials have lowered the recommended age for colon cancer screenings.

According to Dr. Alisa Alexander, Senior Medical Officer for Tanana Chiefs Conference, colorectal cancer is one of the highest causes of cancer deaths in the United States. Alexander explained, “It’s the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in men and women, and when you combine both men and women it’s actually the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. So very, very common and causing a lot of our deaths related to cancer in the United States.”

The previous age recommended for colonoscopies was 50 years of age, but the new recommendation has been lowered by five years. Alexander continued, “They’ve recently bumped that down through the U.S. Preventative Task Force to age 45. What they have been seeing in the data is that increasingly there are younger and younger people that are getting colon cancer, and so that recommendation was made. I should add, with Alaskan Native people, because I work for a Tribal health organization, we actually start screening at age 40 for Alaskan Native people because the incidence of colorectal cancer in Alaskan Native people is 2.8 times more common than non-Native, and the ages at which Alaskan Native people are affected are younger as well. So we actually start screening earlier in our population.”

Colonoscopies are not only used for screening, but also to treat and prevent colon cancer according to Alexander. “You know the benefits of colonoscopy are that it’s both preventative, but also a form of treatment for colon cancer. If you get a screening colonoscopy done, you [might] have some polyps identified and they’re removed - and they’re pre-cancerous or benign polyps, we’ve basically prevented those polyps from turning into cancer down the road. If they have some cancerous changes in them and they’re removed, we’ve basically treated the cancer, as long as it’s been completely removed and there’s no residual effects of it.”

And according to Dr. Alexander, the procedure is simple and covered by most insurances. “You know it’s never too late to get a colonoscopy done. Because of this recommendation with the U.S. Preventative Task Force dropping the recommended age down to 45, most insurance companies will probably cover your screening procedure. It can be intimidating to think about what the procedure is and going through that, but it’s very common. All the people involved in your care are very professional, and it’s very fast actually. It’s not super uncomfortable, and the benefits are so high. We really recommend reaching out to your health care provider if you fit that age category, and especially if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, please reach out to your provider so they can determine the right interval for when you should start screening.”

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