While you can’t control your genes, you can take care of your body. If you are between the ages of 45 and 50, add getting a colorectal screening to your list of “must dos” for good preventive care. If you thought that test was several years in your future, keep reading…

Many people believe that colorectal cancer only affects old people. It’s true that the risk escalates with aging, but a surprising number of younger people are now losing their lives to this disease. That is why the new recommendation is to get screened for colorectal cancer when you turn 45 – not 50.

In a new guideline, colorectal cancer screenings should start at age 45, per the American Cancer Society. This is the first time since 1997 that the guideline has changed. The recent update aims to save more young lives by finding colorectal cancer early or preventing it from happening at all.

Why change now? Because colon cancer rates are steadily increasing:

  • From 0.5 to 1.3 percent per year for adults aged 40 to 54 years since the mid-90s
  • By 1 to 2.4 percent annually for adults 20 to 39 years through 2013
  • Mortality rates are now double for people born in 1990.

What is causing colorectal cancer rates to escalate among GenXers and Millennials? Several studies suggest that an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity are the likely culprits. Others found that high levels of insulin associated with obesity interfere with cells’ ability to control regulatory genes at the DNA level. This disruption is being linked to cancer in colon cells.

“Colorectal cancer typically has no symptoms until the disease has progressed and is much more difficult to treat," said Michael Baumann, M.D., chief medical officer, MountainStar Healthcare. “If caught early, it has a 90 percent survival rate. That’s why it’s so critical for adults to get over any qualms they may have about preventive screenings – and start getting them after that 45th birthday.”

So, 45 it is! Not so fast… If one of your parents or siblings (first degree relative) was diagnosed with this disease or has a history of polyps, ask your doctor when to start colorectal screenings. Typically, the recommendation is 10 years younger than the age of the family member at diagnosis or at age 40, whichever comes first.

Screening options

Colorectal screenings can help doctors find the polyps that are often precursors of colon cancer. Here are the most common types:

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT): The stool is tested for Should be done every year, if choosing this as an alternative to colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A flexible tube is inserted to check the rectum and last part of the colon. Should be done every five years.
  • Colonoscopy: A flexible tube is inserted into the colon and rectum. If polyps are found, they are normally removed and tested. Should be done every 10 years.

Prevention until you turn 45

So you youngsters out there, you may only be in your 40, 30s and 20s, but it’s time to pay attention to your eating habits and how much physical activity you’re getting every day. It may be hard to believe, but 70 percent of colon cancer cases can be avoided with diet and lifestyle changes. Being physically active and eating right has proven to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer by 40 to 50 percent.

Here are some other preventive steps you can take to lower your risk of colon cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay active and exercise regularly
  • Eat less red meat (beef, lamb and pork) and processed meats (hot dogs and some lunch meats)
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains (fiber)
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcoholic beverages; no more than two drinks daily for men and one for women

Unfortunately, many people put off the screening process for fear that it will be uncomfortable and lengthy. Don’t be one of those people! Once you’ve finished prepping, the actual procedure is short and usually painless. If you’re a typical “advice-seeking” millennial, this article tackles 30 myths about the prep, the screening and the cancer. If it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy, view a list of our specialists. Schedule your preventive colorectal screening today!