Colonoscopies Should Start at 45, Not 50, According to European Study

person getting examined in endoscopy
New research suggests screenings for colon cancer should begin at age 45, rather than later. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

There are plenty of nice things young people take for granted: being able to eat a whole pile of French fries without spending even one second feeling terrible is one of them, as are drinking without hangovers and playing sports without knee injuries. Add to that list not having to worry about scheduling a colonoscopy every five to 10 years, and we're really starting to get to the heart of what it means to be young and carefree.

But new research presented in late October 2017 at the 25th United European Gastroenterology (UEG) Week in Barcelona, Spain, suggests that when it comes to the colonoscopy stuff, "young" doesn't means what it once did.


Until now, conventional wisdom has held that we all ought to be screened for colorectal cancer (CRC) at least every 10 years, starting at age 50. The American Cancer Society, for instance, recommends CRC screenings for patients under 50 only when the patient is already at risk due to certain conditions. But these days, CRC mortality rates are rising in young adults. As far as cancer goes, CRC is the second most common cause of death in Europe, accounting for 14 percent of all cancer diagnoses there. Recent research found that 30 percent of all CRC diagnoses in Europe now occur in people younger than 55.

For this study, a group of French researchers analyzed more than 6,000 colonoscopies for neoplasia, the uncontrolled growth of new abnormal tissue. The scientists found a 400 percent increase in neoplasia in patients aged 45-49, compared with those between the ages of 40-45. Neoplasia detection was even 8 percent higher in 45-49 year olds than it was in 50-54 year olds.

neoplasia detection rate chart
A new European study examined, among other factors, neoplasia detection rate by age.
United European Gastroenterology

In addition, the mean number of potentially cancerous colon polyps and their rate of detection increased by a whopping 95.8 and 95.4 percent respectively between the 45-50 age group and the one before it. Between the 45-49 and 50-54 age groups, the change was only 19.1 percent and 11.5 percent, respectively.

All of this means, of course, that the researchers recommend people start getting colonoscopies when we're 45, as that age seems to be the threshold for serious conditions to become more prevalent.

"These findings demonstrate that it is at 45 years old that a remarkable increase in the colorectal lesions frequency is shown, especially in the detection rate of early neoplasia," said lead researcher Dr. David Karsenti, of the Digestive Endoscopy Unit at Clinique de Bercy in Charenton-le-Pont, France, in a UEG press release. "Even when patients with a familial and personal history of polyps or cancer are excluded from the findings, there is still a noticeable increase in detection rates in patients from the age of 45."