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Colorectal cancer cases rise as the screening age decreases by five years

A recent discovery concerning patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer is on the rise.

According to a news release from St. Luke’s Medical Center, the American Cancer Society reports a 4.5 increase per 100,000 people of colorectal cancer diagnoses compared to the 2.9 diagnoses per 100,000 people in 1995.

The Harvard Cancer Care Alliance and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are conducting a study alongside an international project to get a deeper look into the increase of colorectal cancer diagnoses in younger patients.

The Brian Olson Memorial Golf Classic partly funds Dana-Farber to assist in both the study and the general research of cancer. The annual tournament has donated over $550,000 to the St. Luke’s Cancer Institute.

Senior Manager of Oncology Clinical Research at St Luke’s Cancer Institute Tammie Eslinger plays a key role in this study, collecting data to solve this peculiar mystery and encouraging people to get screened earlier.

“It's critical,” says Eslinger. “It's absolutely crucial because if we catch it, we have a better chance of helping you live a long life.”

In 2021, the independent U.S. Preventive Services Task Force pushed the regular screening age from 50 to 45 years old.

According to the news release from St. Luke’s, the reason for this age shift is caused by the recent rise in cases of younger patient diagnoses.

In the Treasure Valley alone, there are 27 patients enrolled in the study, one being only 22 years old. They are asked to submit stool and blood samples and to fill out questionnaires about their medical history and lifestyle.

The data is then sent to Dana-Farber for analysis and doctors hope these statistics will deliver the answer they have been looking for.

The Dana Farber Cancer Institute says experts predict colon cancer will be the leading cause of cancer for people between the ages of 20 and 49 by the end of the decade.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, there were 1.9 million colorectal cancer cases in 2020. It ranks number three on their list, making up for 10.7% of all cancers.

It’s generally very treatable if it’s caught early.

If doctors can catch the cells before they turn malignant, the chances of survival are 100% however, if it is caught later on, the chances dip to 50%.

Eslinger and her team are focused on finding out why this diagnosis is being given well before the typical screening age of 50.

“Go to the doctor, see your oncologist,” says Eslinger. “Follow their guidance. They're experts in this and they will help you navigate the disease. And it's just really important to be an active participant in your care.”

Historically, colonoscopies are rumored to be an uncomfortable and painful medical procedure. However, the process is merely painless.

“The actual colonoscopy scope takes about 25 minutes and with a local anesthetic, it’s almost completely painless,” says Dr. Dan Zuckerman, an oncologist at St. Luke’s. “There is some preparation, but it’s largely done in the comfort of your home and the procedure itself is quick and discreet.”

Eslinger says that the longer the cancer is in you the less chances of survival you have, this is why it is crucial to get in before age 50.

The importance of noticing signs and getting screened is extremely important and could possibly save a life.

Amanda Niess was a newsroom assistant through February of 2024.

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