Posted on: 6 July 2021Share
Although the general guidelines for colorectal cancer screenings state screenings should begin at age 45, there are several reasons you should have colorectal screenings before you reach this age. Here are just three reasons to schedule an earlier screening.
1. Family History
One of the challenging aspects of having a family history of colorectal cancer is that not everyone knows their family history on both sides. Additionally, in previous decades, it was common for people to die from cancer of unknown origin simply because the diagnostic tools were not available to pinpoint the cause of death.
If you know a family member who died from cancer but you're unsure of which type, there can be some clues that might identify whether the problem was colorectal cancer. For example, a family member may have had major abdominal surgeries that left them with a colostomy bag. When in doubt, it is better to mention to your healthcare provider there is a family history of cancer, even when you don't know the specific type.
No gastrointestinal symptoms (GI) should be ignored, regardless of age. Although GI problems are rarely a sign of cancer, some people have developed colorectal cancer as early as their twenties. One of the major worrisome symptoms of cancer is blood in your stool. Sometimes the blood is mixed in with the stool, making it harder to detect. When bleeding occurs further up in the colon and becomes mixed in with the stool, it causes it to become unusually dark. In other instances, you may notice blood on the toilet paper when you wipe and less commonly, there may be profuse bleeding from the rectum, especially in advanced cancers.
More often than not, bleeding is more consistent with hemorrhoids than cancer but this symptom should still be evaluated. Other symptoms may be problems with diarrhea and/or constipation, with constipation being more common. Some people notice their stools become thinner in girth because there may be obstructions in the intestines.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of conditions that includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions are caused by the immune system attacking different parts of the GI system. Crohn's disease is more widespread throughout the GI system, damaging anything from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is typically confined to the colon and rectum. The reason people with IBD are at greater risk for colorectal cancer is because of ongoing inflammation and damage to the colon and rectum. Ongoing inflammation increases cell turnover, thereby increasing the risk of abnormal cells forming that eventually become cancer. The relationship between IBD and the risk of colorectal cancer is dependent on the severity of IBD, how long it has been occurring, and whether treatments help control the disease.
Although the general guidelines for colorectal cancer screenings begin at 45, there are several instances where screening should begin earlier. All new or worsening GI symptoms should be evaluated. Fortunately, most GI issues are non-cancerous, but in rare cases, they can be something potentially life-threatening. To learn more, contact services that offer colorectal cancer screenings.