What To Know About Colorectal Cancer Screening

In the United States, colorectal cancer rates have been declining for years among adults older than 50, due to increased rates of screening. However, the risk is slowly rising in younger people.1,2

What's more, a report published in July 2020 shows that rates of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have dramatically risen among millennials or those between the ages of 22 and 37. Increases in these conditions could potentially mean increases in the rates of colorectal cancer. However, this information is not so new to the IBD community. People with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk of colorectal cancer – up to 2.6 times higher, by some estimates.3

However, colorectal cancer screenings are a powerful tool that can save lives. Understanding the importance of regular screenings, the different screening options, and getting screened can help you reduce your risk for colon cancer.

Regular screening can prevent colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is unique among cancers in that it is treatable – and in some cases even preventable – if it is caught early enough with screening. These screenings can find precancerous tissue (also called polyps) before it turns into colorectal cancer. They can also catch colorectal cancer in an earlier, more treatable form.2

But even though the benefits are clear, about a third of people who should get screened for colorectal cancer never do. According to the July 2020 report, only 31 percent of the people studied who were under 50 and had Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis were ever screened for colorectal cancer. It is time to reverse this trend.2,3

Screening can be done in a few ways. Your basic options include:2

  • Internal examination like a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Stool tests like the fecal immunochemical test or fecal occult blood test
  • Computed tomography (CT) colonography, also called a virtual colonoscopy, which uses X-ray imaging to view the colon

Your doctor will help you decide which screening type is right for you.2

The U.S. The Preventive Services Task Force currently recommends that adults age 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. However, with the rising risk among young people, particularly those with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it is worth checking in with your doctor to talk about your risk for colorectal cancer and if that means that early screening is a good idea.2,3

Why are people with IBD at higher risk for colorectal cancer?

We know that IBD can increase the risk of colorectal cancer for certain people. If you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, make sure that your doctor is aware of 4 factors that may increase your risk:1-3

  • The age at which you were diagnosed. Your colon cancer risk may increase the longer you have had the disease.
  • How long you have had your condition. If you have ulcerative colitis, your colorectal cancer risk may increase if your condition has been active for more than 30 years.
  • The extent of your condition. Your colorectal cancer risk may be higher if more of your digestive tract is affected.
  • Where your digestive tract is affected. For instance, if you have Crohn’s colitis or ileocolitis, your small intestine or colon is more likely to be an area of inflammation. This makes the area more vulnerable to pre-cancerous cells.

Some other factors can put people with IBD at higher risk for colorectal cancer. They include:1-3

  • Being older than 50 years
  • Already having polyps in your colon or rectum
  • Having a previous cancer or a close relative who had colorectal cancer, such as a parent, sibling, or child

Make a screening plan with your doctor

As we are learning, more people are at risk for colorectal cancer, but the IBD community will always need to be particularly vigilant. While colorectal cancer screenings are not the most convenient (or pleasant) way to pass your time, they can save your life. Plus, there are no known harms or drawbacks to screening or early intervention.2

There are an estimated 50,000 colorectal cancer deaths that happen every year in the United States. However, each of us has the power to catch the disease early. Ask your doctor about the best screening plan for you.2

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