According to a recent study, the number of younger adults diagnosed with colon cancer is on the rise.
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While rates for colon cancer have dropped, people born in 1990 have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer as people the same age who were born in 1950.
Colon cancer diagnosis in people under 50 is still uncommon (accounting only for about 10 percent of diagnoses), but it is the upward trend that disturbs experts. The incidence of colorectal cancer in this group is “rare, but increasing,” according to the American Cancer Society.
Routine screening for colon cancer isn’t recommended until age 50. As a result, in a younger person who isn’t routinely screened, a colon cancer diagnosis is more often found in advanced stages.
Even though overall rates have dropped, colon cancer is still the third leading cause of cancer in the United States. Each year, about 140,000 new cases are diagnosed.
When younger people are affected
Colon cancer in a younger adult sometimes is attributed to inheritance or other risk factors, such as having inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
However, experts say there is a growing number of younger adults being diagnosed for unknown reasons.
If younger people delay getting symptoms checked, this could account for the advanced stage at diagnosis, says colorectal surgeon James Church, MD. “With these young patients, there is an average delay of six months between the time their symptoms start and a diagnosis is made.”
If you suspect something is wrong, don’t delay seeing your doctor, Dr. Church says. Timely evaluation of symptoms consistent with colorectal cancer is essential, even if you are under age 50.
Watch for bowel changes and rectal bleeding
Dr. Church says to pay attention to any sort of bowel changes accompanied by rectal bleeding.
“Even if you’re young — even if you’re in your 20’s — if you have rectal bleeding and you think it’s hemorrhoids, don’t assume. Get it checked out.”
To catch problems early, he recommends:
- Know your family history (and tell your doctor if colon cancer runs in your family)
- Maintain healthy lifestyle habits (watch your diet and exercise regularly)
- Keep an eye out for symptoms (don’t ignore bowel changes or rectal bleeding)
- If symptoms do arise, get a thorough examination (never hesitate to talk to your doctor)
Remember that colon cancer is completely preventable, and the most important factor when it comes to prevention is awareness of symptoms.