By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When actor Chadwick Boseman died last year, it put a spotlight on colon cancer, specifically colon cancer cases in younger people. Doctors say they’re seeing more cases in younger patients. Boseman was 43. Doctors are now recommending screenings for younger people.

At 48, Marsha Cuda had some bleeding that she and her doctor blamed on hemorrhoids.

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“There was no history in my family at all of cancer, let alone, colon,” says Marsha.

Her doctor, though, thought they should check further.

“Thank God she did. Because we did do a colonoscopy like a month later and found stage 3b,” Marsha says, “So had I waited till 50, or had she not checked or not decided to do it…who knows what my outcome would have been,” she says.

Turns out, 45 is the new 50 when it comes to colon cancer screening. The United States Preventive Services Task Force says it should start five years earlier than its previous recommendation, which had been at age 50. The rate of new cases in people younger than 50 has been rising since the early 2000s.

“Because they were young they tend to be ignored or dismissed as hemorrhoids or irritable bowel, and it takes anywhere from 18 months to two years from the time they started to complain to the time of their colonoscopy,” says AHN gastroenterologist and Wexford Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Katie Farah.

“Unfortunately, the majority of them seem to have locally advanced, or even regional disease,” she adds, “and a small portion of them actually had metastatic disease.”

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About 50,000 Americans die of colorectal cancer each year. But if it is caught early with screening, the prognosis is good.

“This is one of the most preventable cancers,” Dr. Farah explains, “and you see such a young patient present with stage two or stage three disease. So the overall prognosis drops.”

The gold standard for screening is a colonoscopy, where a flexible tube equipped with a camera examines the lower digestive tract on the inside for cancer. Any pre-cancerous polyps can be removed during this test as well. Risks include the sedation, bleeding, infection and puncturing the intestinal wall.

Other options for screening include stool-based tests and special CT scans if you don’t have a close relative who has had colon cancer.

The panel’s decision is now in line with the American Cancer Society’s 2020 recommendations, which support a start at age 45. Other professional organizations will likely follow suit.

The new guidance from the USPSTF means most insurance plans would cover screening with no copay.

Masha was treated with radiation, chemo, and surgery, and is glad she had the test in her 40s. “I think 45 is a good age. I’m five years clear, so that’s great.”

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She’s feeling happy, healthy and grateful.

Dr. Maria Simbra