Colon cancer screening should start at age 45, not 50, according to a draft of new guidelines prompted by a rising incidence of colorectal cancer in younger people, a top medical panel said.
The draft, published Oct. 27 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, adds weight to previous recommendations, most notably the American Cancer Society, which began recommending lower-age screening in 2018.
That means insurance companies are more likely to cover colonoscopies and other tests in those ages 45 to 49, NBC News noted.
The task force is an independent and volunteer panel of national medical experts especially versed in prevention, and evidence-based medicine, according to its website. The goal of the new guidelines is, simply, to prevent premature death, the doctors serving on the task force said in a statement.
"Recent studies showing a rising incidence in individuals aged 45 to 49 drew our attention to that age group," task force member Dr. John Wong, the chief scientific officer at Tufts Medical Center, told NBC News.
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., the task force noted, and about 25% of people age 50 to 75 have never been screened. Early detection is key to survival.
"Unfortunately, not enough people in the U.S. receive this effective preventive service that has been proven to save lives," task force chairman Dr. Alex Krist said in the statement. "We hope that this recommendation to screen people ages 45 to 75 for colorectal cancer will encourage more screening and reduce people's risk of dying from this disease."
Colon cancer is what killed Katie Couric's first husband, Jay Monahan, in 1998 when he was just 42. The journalist continues to advocate for regular screening, and these days, she and her current spouse get his-and-hers colonoscopies, as "Today" reported last November.
"The incidence of new colorectal cancer for young adults less than age 50 continues to increase by 2% per year," Dr. Mark Pochapin, one of those who took care of Monahan, told Couric in August.
"We are seeing an increase in the incidence of colon cancer in younger people, and the data is supporting that," gastroenterologist Dr. Roshini Raj told "Today" last year. "Not only are younger people getting it more often but they are getting a more deadly form of the disease."
That was made painfully apparent in August, when acclaimed and beloved actor Chadwick Boseman, star of "Black Panther" and numerous other works, died at 43 after battling the disease behind the scenes for four years.
The task force's new recommendations point to this as well, highlighting the higher incidence and death rate of Black Americans over other racial and ethnic groups.
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Doctors not on the task force welcomed the guidelines as in line with what they are seeing.
"The USPSTF tends to be the most conservative and orthodox group in their interpretation of the scientific literature and they rarely make a big change like this," Dr. Otis Brawley, a professor of oncology and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News. "They are seeing the same thing the American Cancer Society sees."
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