Colon Cancer Screening Should Start Earlier, at Age 45, U.S. Panel Says

The draft recommendation acknowledges a trend of higher rates of colon and rectal cancer in generations born since 1950.

Credit…David Degner for The New York Times

Adults should start screening for colorectal cancer routinely at the age of 45, instead of waiting until 50, a U.S. task force recommended on Tuesday, in a move that reflected the sharp rise in the number of colon and rectal cancers in young adults.

The proposal by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force still must be finalized. Its guidance on screenings and preventive care services is followed by doctors, insurance companies and policymakers.

Though the vast majority of colorectal cancers are still found in those 50 and older, 12 percent of the 147,950 colorectal cancers that will be diagnosed this year — some 18,000 cases — will be found in adults under 50, according to an American Cancer Society study. The incidence of colorectal cancer, which dropped steadily for people born from 1890 to 1950, has been increasing for every generation born since the mid-20th century.

Many early-onset cancers are diagnosed in people as young as their 20s and 30s who will not be covered by the draft recommendation. For example, Chadwick Boseman, the actor who starred in “Black Panther” and other films, died in August at 43 from colon cancer that was diagnosed several years earlier. Still, advocates for people with cancer hailed the proposal by the task force as a major step forward, saying it has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.