Colorectal cancer is something that is typically thought to be an issue that only people aged 50 or older should worry about. While there has been a drop in the rate of new colon and rectal cancer diagnoses in those aged 50+, incidence rates are increasing for those under 50. Traditionally, routine colonoscopies are scheduled after the age of 50, but screening standards may soon change.
The rates of new cases and deaths from colon and rectal cancer are increasing in younger Americans. Incidence rates rose by 22 percent between 2000 and 2013 and mortality rates grew by 13 percent between 2000 and 2014. A NIH study found that among patients diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer under 50, many were diagnosed with an already advanced stage of the cancer.
Why is This Happening?
While the actual cause of the increase of incidence is unclear, it is suggested that the increased number of advanced cases is due to lack of awareness and screenings among younger age groups. In addition, younger people tend to ignore warning signs and not seek a medical opinion.
Even in the medical community, colon and rectal cancer can be overlooked since it is not typical of someone under 40 to be affected. Many of the symptoms that may indicate the presence of colon or rectal cancer can be confused with many other causes such as hemorrhoids.
Important Warning Signs
While it’s not common for young people to have colorectal cancer, the increase in incidence of advanced-stage diagnoses should motivate those 50 and under to take notice of important symptoms. The most common indications of colorectal cancer include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark or bloody bowel movements
- Weakness, fatigue and stomach pain
- Unexpected weight loss
- Changes in bowel habits – diarrhea or constipation that lasts a few days.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
There are three things that you can do right now to protect yourself against colorectal cancer.
Start Living A Healthier Lifestyle
It may sound obvious, but improving your diet and becoming more active is the single most effective thing you can do for your overall health. Eating foods that are high in fiber and avoiding processed foods will help lower your risk of colorectal cancer.
Know Your Family History
If anyone in your family has had colon or rectal cancer or has had precancerous polyps removed, you should begin your screenings at least 10 years earlier than normal, around age 40. Even if it’s a distant relative, talk with your doctor about a plan for your screenings.
Know What is Normal for Your Body
You know your body better than anyone else. If you begin to notice changes that worry you, document them. If you suddenly begin to feel constipated or you have frequent diarrhea, keep notes of the dates and frequency of these occurrences. If you’re concerned about any of these changes, don’t be afraid to talk with a physician.
What Do You Do If You Think You Are At Risk of Colon Cancer?
You should talk to your doctor about getting screened either through diagnostic imaging or a colonoscopy. As far as treatment, depending on the severity of the cancer Dr. Sachse may recommend removing all or part of the colon. If you want a surgery option that might reduce healing time, ask your physician about minimally invasive Colorectal procedures.