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Love Your Guts: Older Americans' Views on Colorectal Cancer Screenings

According to a recent AARP survey on screenings for colorectal cancer, U.S. adults ages 50 and older report being familiar with various screening methods, but adults 65-plus are more likely to have had a screening, and adults ages 50–64 are more likely than their older counterparts to say they are not very or not at all knowledgeable about colorectal cancer. These findings are troubling considering that 50 is the current recommended age for healthy adults to receive a colorectal cancer screening.

In 2016, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released a recommendation stating that screening for colorectal cancer should start at age 50 and continue until age 75. The following year, the American Cancer Society made the recommendation that first-time colorectal cancer screening for people at average risk of colorectal cancer should start at age 45 due in large measure to research noting an uptick in colorectal cancer diagnoses for adults under age 55. Currently, while there is no consensus, the USPSTF is updating their 2016 recommendation and may lower the age to 45 to begin screening for colorectal cancer.

But, whatever the recommended age becomes, if the results of this study are any indication, it seems that doctors and other health care professionals are the best line of defense — at least when it comes to colorectal cancer screening recommendations. Among respondents who reported having had such a screening, roughly eight in 10 attributed it to a doctor’s recommendation. And, for those who reported never having been screened for colorectal cancer, one-third cited the lack of a recommendation from their doctor as a reason for forgoing the test. When asked what would encourage those who have not had a screening to get one, nearly half cited a doctor’s recommendation. Only half as many said having troubling symptoms such as bloody stool or pain would prompt them to seek a screening, with roughly half as many again noting that a family history of colorectal cancer would prompt them to get a screening test. Clearly, doctors and other health care professionals can play a critical role in communicating screening guidelines to patients and recommending they have their colorectal cancer screening test when the time is right.

But, don’t just rely on your doctor or other health care professionals to tell you what to do. Take care of your own health. Don’t ignore symptoms. If you experience any of the warning signs of colorectal cancer — unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits, or blood in the stool — make an appointment to see your doctor right away.

Methodology

The Views on Colorectal Cancer Screenings survey was conducted online February 25–March 1, 2021 with a total sample of 1,017 adults ages 50-plus. This national survey was conducted using NORC at the University of Chicago’s AmeriSpeak 50+ Omnibus probability-based sample. AmeriSpeak is designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. All data are weighted by age, gender, and race according to the most recent Census population statistics.

For more information, contact Teresa A. Keenan, tkeenan@aarp.org; Elizabeth A. Carter, bcarter@aarp.org. For media inquiries, contact media@aarp.org.

 

Suggested citation:

Keenan, Teresa, and Elizabeth Carter. Love Your Guts: Views on Colorectal Cancer Screenings Among U.S. Adults Ages 50 and Older, Washington, DC: AARP Research, April 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00458.001