Colorectal cancer screening from 45 years of age: Thesis, antithesis and synthesis

World J Gastroenterol. 2019 Jun 7;25(21):2565-2580. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v25.i21.2565.


Colorectal cancer incidence and mortality in patients younger than 50 years are increasing, but screening before the age of 50 is not offered in Europe. Advanced-stage diagnosis and mortality from colorectal cancer before 50 years of age are increasing. This is not a detection-bias effect; it is a real issue affecting the entire population. Three independent computational models indicate that screening from 45 years of age would yield a better balance of benefits and risks than the current start at 50 years of age. Experimental data support these predictions in a sex- and race-independent manner. Earlier screening is seemingly affordable, with minimal impediments to providing younger adults with colonoscopy. Indeed, the American Cancer Society has already started to recommend screening from 45 years of age in the United States. Implementing early screening is a societal and public health problem. The three independent computational models that suggested earlier screening were criticized for assuming perfect compliance. Guidelines and recommendations should be derived from well-collected and reproducible data, and not from mathematical predictions. In the era of personalized medicine, screening decisions might not be based solely on age, and sophisticated prediction software may better guide screening. Moreover, early screening might divert resources away from older individuals with greater biological risks. Finally, it is still unknown whether early colorectal cancer is part of a continuum of disease or a biologically distinct disease and, as such, it might not benefit from screening at all. The increase in early-onset colorectal cancer incidence and mortality demonstrates an obligation to take actions. Earlier screening would save lives, and starting at the age of 45 years may be a robust screening option.

Keywords: Colonoscopy; Early onset; Early-onset colorectal cancer; Guidelines; Pros and cons.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods
  • Colonoscopy / standards
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods
  • Early Detection of Cancer / standards*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / trends
  • Europe
  • Gastroenterology / standards
  • Guideline Adherence*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Mass Screening / trends
  • Medical Oncology / standards
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Societies, Medical / standards
  • Software
  • United States