Bowel cancer: time to screen 40-something men?

Bowel Cancer Australia has called for the starting age for bowel cancer screening in Australia to be lowered from 50 to 45.

 

Any such move could be good news for men’s health in particular as men are more likely to die from bowel cancer, while women are more likely to get screened for bowel cancer.

Rates of bowel cancer in men are higher than women by:

  • 9% for men aged 45-49
  • 30% for men aged 50-54
  • 45% for men aged 55-59

This is exacerbated by the fact that the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is less effective at reaching men than women. Screening currently reaches:

  • 13% more women aged 50-54
  • 14% more women aged 55-59
  • 12% more women aged 60-64

By the time men reach their seventies, the number of women reached by the screening program is just 3% higher than for women.

Screening men from a younger age and taking action to target health promotion campaigns at men, could help increase the number of men who catch bowel cancer early and potentially reduce the number of male deaths from bowel cancer every year.

The call to reduce the starting age for bowel cancer screening for men and women came as a new global study of seven high-income countries found that in the decade up to 2014,

the number of people aged under 50 diagnosed with colon cancer increased significantly each year in Australia and New Zealand (by 2.9%). Significant increases in the number of people under age 50 diagnosed with rectal cancer each year were also noted in Australia (2.6%).

In May 2018, the American Cancer Society changed its screening guidelines to recommend lowering the starting age from 50 to 45 years, because of the increasing incidence among younger people.

Colorectal Surgeon and a Director of Bowel Cancer Australia, Graham Newstead AM said:

“A lower start-age for bowel cancer screening could be part of the solution, together with ways to reduce risk through diet and lifestyle changes, as well as improved symptom awareness among both patients and GPs,”

“It may be ambitious, but we should be able to increase screening participation rates for people over 50 and also begin to screen those aged 45-49,” he said.

“The age at which bowel cancer screening starts should clearly be reviewed.” Most importantly, bowel cancer should not be dismissed by patients and GPs as a potential underlying cause of symptoms simply because the patient is younger,” Dr Newstead said.

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