Patient, experts push for earlier colon cancer screenings

A new report from the American Cancer Society is recommending adults should be screened for colon cancer at age 45 instead of 50 after a study found cancer has increased more than 50 percent among younger adults since 1994.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer related deaths.

“I forget what it’s like to be a normal person,” said Sarah DeBord.

With her second son barely 12 months old, DeBord was diagnosed with colon cancer at 34 years old. She started noticing symptoms, including bloody stool, a decade earlier. Her aunt was diagnosed with stage three. By the time doctors recognized the deadly disease growing inside of DeBord, she was stage four. 

“It was devastating,” she said. “All I could think was I’m not going to see my kids grow up. How can I love them enough now to last them a lifetime?”

After surgery more than six years ago, DeBord continues chemo on a weekly basis. She recently reached her 144th round of treatment with her boys often by her side. 

“I’ll keep going until there are no options left,” she said.

Like DeBord, University of Minnesota Health oncologist Dr. Emil Lou applauds the American Cancer Society’s new recommendation for people, even without a family history, to get colorectal cancer screenings five years younger at age 45. The new guideline comes because of the sharp increase in the number of colorectal cancer deaths.

However, most health insurance companies follow guidelines set by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which still recommends screenings start at age 50.

Dr. Lou believes with time other expert groups and insurance policies will catch up. He believes, eventually, the recommended age will be even younger. 

“I think traditionally physicians on the front lines have not necessarily though of colon or rectal cancer as the first thing that pops in their mind, so maybe those patients aren’t getting colonoscopy soon enough,” said Dr. Lou.

For now, working with the Colon Cancer Coalition, DeBord continues to hold out hope for her own health and for those she is an advocate. 

“I’ve watched too many of my friends die and leave their kids behind,” she said. “I know I’m the exception and I’m grateful for it.”

According to the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, if your doctor recommends you need one of several types of invasive and non-invasive colorectal cancer screenings, it can be covered by insurance.