Hackensack University Medical Center Surgeon Offers Tips for Patient Compliance with New Colorectal Cancer Screening Age

Screening Options and Common Questions to Anticipate with New Screening Start Age of 45

In May 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age to start colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45. Screening now needs to be on the radar of a younger demographic who may have negative impressions and misconceptions about colorectal cancer screenings.

Howard Ross, M.D., colon and rectal surgeon at Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center, offers tips for easing anxieties and ensuring compliance with this new, younger patient cohort.

  • Start with the facts about colon cancer. Point out that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., but it’s generally a slow-growing cancer that is treatable if caught early enough. According to research from the American Cancer Society, the rate at which people 65 and older are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S. is dropping. But in younger age groups, that rate is rising. In 2020, 12 percent of colorectal cancer cases were diagnosed in people under age 50. Since the’ 90s, rates have been increasing in adults ages 40 to 54.
  • Share screening options. While a visual colonoscopy exam is recommended every five to 10 years as a preventive measure for typically healthy individuals, the simpler, less invasive stool screening method advisable every one to three years can yield an early diagnosis as well. Advise that both test types are valuable, but the most important thing is to get screened, period.
  • Address the fears of pain and discomfort. Explain that the doctor will examine the colon using a flexible camera that’s inserted into the anus. Make sure patients understand that most individuals are sedated through conscious sedation or twilight sleep and don’t feel anything during the exam. Many patients don’t even remember they had a procedure.
  • Review the prep process. Cover dietary shifts in the preceding days, and drinking bowel-cleansing liquids. Let them know that bowel movements usually start within one to three hours of taking the prep, and that mixing the prep with a clear liquid, like a favorite sports drink, will make it go down easier. Share that they will likely experience high-volume and high-velocity diarrhea. Help them plan for comfort, stocking up on reading material, toilet paper, medicated wipes and a skin-soothing product to apply after bowel movements to prevent irritation.
  • Communicate the benefits of on-time colonoscopy screening. The goal is usually to find cancers at an early stage in order to provide the best treatment option for the best possible outcome. This can include removing precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer during the colonoscopy, rather than a separate procedure.
  • Note the quick recovery process. Typically it takes an hour to recover from the sedatives. While there is the possibility of some cramping or bloating, it should resolve quickly. Note that if polyps are removed or biopsies taken, there may be some light bleeding for a few days after the procedure. Let patients know when they can expect test results following a screening.
Learn More about cancer care at Hackensack University Medical Center.
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