Too young for cancer? Think again. It’s true that most new colorectal cancer diagnoses occur in people 50 or older, which is why organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Cancer Society recommend routine colonoscopies to screen for it beginning at that age. But, as you may have seen in the headlines recently, cases are increasing in young adults.
A Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) study found that colon cancer rates among people age 20-39 are increasing 1-2.4% per year. The incidence of colon cancer in people 40-49 is increasing more rapidly than for any other age group. Some physicians and researchers believe this alarming trend could be the result of poor diet, inactive lifestyle and simply not knowing the risk factors for or symptoms of colorectal cancer.
You are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer if you:
- Have a family history of colorectal cancer
- Have a history of colorectal cancer, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease yourself
- Are African American or Jewish of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi)
- Have type 2 diabetes
- Drink alcohol heavily
- Are overweight or obese
- Are physically inactive
- Consume a diet high in red meat and processed meat
- Have a certain genetic condition (such as Lynch syndrome, Turcot syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome)
Physicians want you to know that, regardless of your age,
- There are no early warning symptoms of colon cancer or polyps. Screening before symptoms begin gives the best opportunity to prevent cancer by detecting and removing the pre-cancerous polyps. Detecting cancer during screening tests greatly increases the chance that the cancer is in a curable stage
- Once symptoms occur, if there is a cancer, it is more likely to be a more advanced cancer, and is less likely to be curable
- Symptoms that should warrant an investigation at any age include:
- Persistent, significant change in bowel function (diarrhea or constipation)
- Rectal bleeding
- Persistent abdominal pain
- Rapid, unexplained weight loss and new onset fatigue (It’s important to note that these may be features of advanced cancer from any source and are not specific to colorectal cancer)
If any of the risk factors apply to you, or if you experience one or more of the symptoms listed above, take action! Talk to your primary care physician about the different types of colorectal cancer screenings and find out which one is best for you. When colorectal cancer is detected early, surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy can provide effective treatment!
This webpage is for informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice or a substitute for a consultation with a professional healthcare provider.