There’s an active debate in the medical community about whether to start colorectal cancer screenings at 45 or 50, and a study by Tulane indicates starting screenings before 50 may be the better choice.

Tulane Associate Clinical Professor Dr. Jordan Karlitz studied cancer rate increases on a year to year basis and found a 46% increase in diagnoses from ages 49 to 50.

“We figured that there would be an uptick from age 49 to 50, but the degree of the uptick was what was concerning to us,” says Karlitz.

The increase from 49 to 50 was particularly noticeable in men, who saw a 53% increase in diagnoses.

The study also found 93% of cases discovered at age 50 were beyond “in situ stage”, indicating they’d been growing for quite some time. Karlitz says that’s dangerous.

“These could require more aggressive treatment including surgical resection and possibly chemotherapy and radiation,” says Karlitz.

Karlitz hopes the study will receive further review and potentially influence policy creators, as well as the general public.

“The data just raises the importance of getting screened in general. You can see that there is an important colorectal cancer burden and patients really need to talk to their providers about getting screened,” says Karlitz.