Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with more than 50,000 people dying from it each year. But colonoscopy screenings can help by detecting early, pre-cancerous lesions on the inner lining of the large intestine.
Current screening guidelines say people with a first degree relative -- a parent, child or sibling who has had colon cancer, or an advanced polyp before the age of 60 -- should begin screenings at age 40. The rest of the population -- age 50. But now a new study says those guidelines may be missing 10-percent of colorectal cancers in other, more distant relatives.
"What this study tried to get at is in a large database -- whether first degree relatives, second degree relatives and third degree relatives of people with these adenomas, or pre-cancerous polyps, or advanced polyps are themselves at risk for developing colorectal cancer. And the answer from the study is yes, they are at increased risk for developing or having colorectal cancer," said Dr. Rick Zubarik, a FAHC/UVM Gastroenterologist.
That means nieces, nephews, grandchildren and cousins are also at risk -- but they're not being screened until later. So should the guidelines change? "I think it's premature to change our guidelines now. I think this is one piece of the information we need, but when you're determining whether screening is appropriate for either an individual or a population, you have to weigh the risks and the benefits of that screening program," Dr. Zubarik said.
Doctors say more research needs to be done before guidelines are rewritten. In the meantime, they say second and third degree relatives of colon cancer patients should talk to their doctors about what's best for them.
The study on screening guidelines and colon cancer diagnoses was recently published in the journal, Cancer.
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