FRIDAY, Feb. 22, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Smokers and people with significant exposure to secondhand smoke should start getting screened for colon cancer five to 10 years earlier than the current recommended age of 50, a new study says.
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York analyzed the cases of 3,450 colon cancer patients and found that current smokers were diagnosed with the cancer an average of 6.8 years earlier than people who never smoked, while former smokers who'd quit less than five years before were diagnosed 4.3 years earlier than people who never smoked. People who'd quit more than five years before were the same as never-smokers.
People who started smoking before age 17 and those who were heavy smokers (one pack or more a day) were most likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age.
The study also found that people exposed to secondhand smoke, especially early in life, tended to be younger when they were diagnosed with colon cancer.
The findings were published online in the Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology.
"The message for physicians and patients is clear: When making decisions about colon cancer screening, you should take into account smoking history as well as family history of disease and age," study author Luke J. Peppone, a research assistant professor of radiation oncology, said in a prepared statement.
Smoking has long been recognized as a major risk factor for many kinds of cancers, but it's only been recently that researchers have linked smoking with colon cancer, which is one of the most common kinds of cancer in the United States.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about colorectal cancer screening.