Colorectal cancer rates on the rise among millennials
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk for getting colorectal cancer increases with age. Despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of all cases diagnosed occur in people over age 50, a recent study from the American Cancer Society shows a sharp rise in colorectal cancer diagnosis in adults who are in their 20s or 30s.
Findings of the study show that colorectal cancer rates have been increasing for every generation since 1950, and experts are at a loss to explain why. And although death rates from colorectal cancer in general are decreasing, the perception among young people that it only affects older adults means they run the risk of not being diagnosed until later in the course of the disease, when it becomes less treatable.
“It’s a troubling trend, to be sure, but knowledge is power. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking are certainly good first steps, but understanding how colorectal cancer begins and recognizing symptoms can go a long way in reducing your risk for the disease,” said Dr. Armen Simonian, medical director of the Capital Health Center for Digestive Health.
Colorectal cancer typically starts as a polyp, a small growth that forms on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Not all polyps become cancer, but finding and removing them can be effective in preventing it. However, symptoms may be barely noticeable or not present at all in the early stages.
Here are a few things to look for:
- Changes in bowel habits lasting several days, including constipation, diarrhea, or narrowing of the stool
- Blood in the stool
- Unintentional weight loss
Remember, colorectal cancer does not practice age discrimination. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk to your primary care provider to see if you are at risk and learn how to make screenings part of your ongoing health plan.
If you don’t have a primary care doctor, keep in mind that there are many outstanding primary care physicians associated with Capital Health, including Capital Health Medical Group, which offers a network of primary care offices throughout the greater Mercer, Bucks and Burlington county region. To find one that is convenient to you, visit the Find a Doctor section at capitalhealth.org, or to learn more about Capital Health Medical Group, visit capitalmedicalgroup.org.
Who should be screened?
Individuals who should consider a colonoscopy include:
- Individuals age 50 or older for average risk persons
- African Americans age 45 or older
- Those at increased risk of colon cancer. You have a higher risk if:
- You have an immediate family member who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer under the age of 60 or
- You have two immediate family members who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
If these high-risk scenarios apply to you, you should begin colonoscopy screening at age 40 or 10 years younger than the age the immediate family member was diagnosed, whichever is earlier.