Colorectal cancer screening and younger patients

Colorectal cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, most commonly affecting the over 50s. However, in recent years there have been increasing cases of colorectal cancer in younger patients.

While the rates are starting to drop in the over 50’s, they are increasing by around 2% each year in younger patients. Actor Chadwick Boseman recently lost his battle to the condition aged just 43. Sadly, he is one of many younger patients to develop the cancer.

So, as colorectal cancer is becoming more common in younger patients, when is the right time to start screening?

What are the current guidelines?

Current screening guidelines apply to patients aged 60-74. Patients over 60 who are registered with a GP, will receive a bowel cancer screening kit every two years. Those aged 75 and over can also request a kit every two years by calling the bowel cancer screening helpline.

In terms of younger patients, there are no guidelines. Patients may be screened earlier if they are deemed to be at an increased risk of developing the cancer. However, screening will not automatically be offered.

The NHS used to offer bowel scope screening. However, this procedure is no longer offered, with home testing kits being the main service now provided. Over in America, screening has been lowered to age 45. So, what options do younger people have if they want to protect themselves against colorectal cancer?

Can you start bowel cancer screening earlier?

It is possible to start screening for colorectal cancer earlier. By going private, you can receive a screening kit at any age. However, you could also receive a free kit from the NHS if you are considered to be at an increased risk.

You may be considered a higher risk if colorectal cancer is in your family. The majority of bowel cancers are thought to be inherited. Your GP will be able to advise you on where to get a screening test and whether you should be screening for it earlier.

What does colorectal cancer screening involve?

Colorectal cancer screening consists of a home test kit known as FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test). It aims to identify any traces of blood within a stool sample. You will be given everything you need to collect and send off the sample for screening.

It will take approximately two weeks to receive the results of the test. You will be sent a letter telling you no further tests are required, or that further tests are needed. If no tests are required, it means blood wasn’t detected.

Given how simple colorectal screening is, there is no reason for patients not to request a kit if they suspect they have the symptoms. While at one time this type of cancer larger targeted older patients, it is gradually starting to impact younger patients more frequently. Screening for bowel cancer at a younger age could help to save thousands of lives.