CHICAGO, IL – Studies have recently shown that Americans younger than 40 have the steepest rise in cases of colon cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) mentioned the disease has steadily increased over the last 30 to 50 years in younger adults. Patients as young as 20 to 29-years-old have the highest increase in new colon cancer cases and are the most likely to be in the distant stage of being diagnosed. In particular, subgroups of non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic participants had the highest increases.
In the most recent data released by ACS which tracked the incidence of colorectal cancer from 2011 to 2016, there was a 2 percent increase per year among people under 50. Additionally, there was a drop in the survival rate among young adults.
“This is an alarming trend for which there are no clear explanations,” says Christine Hsieh, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California.
Experts have found evidence that suggests obesity, sedentary behavior, poor diet, and other environmental factors play a role in the early onset of colon cancer. Researchers are also studying why young adults with the disease don’t have the same genetic mutation that is linked with this type of cancer in the older population. More research needs to be conducted to learn how tumors in younger patients are molecularly different from those found in older individuals.
With an early diagnosis, this type of cancer is treatable. Symptoms to keep an eye on for colorectal cancer include rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits or stool character, blood in stool, abdominal pain or cramping, fatigue and weakness, unintentional weight loss, or the persistent feeling that you need to have a bowel movement, even after using the restroom.
If your symptoms are increasing in frequency, seek medical attention immediately.
It’s important to know your family history of colon cancer, get regular medical checkups, exercise, and avoid smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol to excess, according to Dr. Hsieh. Knowing your family medical history can make a big difference in determining when to start colorectal cancer screenings and what type of treatment you may receive.
It’s also crucial to understand the screening process of colorectal cancer, including when to start and what options are available to you. Per the ACS current guidelines, people at average risk of colorectal cancer should start screening at age 45. This can be done with a sensitive test that looks for signs of cancer in a person’s stool or with an exam that looks at the colon and rectum.
If you have additional risk factors such as inflammatory bowel disease or a history of colorectal cancer, you may need to be screened earlier or more often.
Individuals in good health and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years should continue regular colorectal cancer screenings through the age of 75.
It’s important to get screened on time. If you are under the age of 45, report any concerning symptoms and your family history to your doctor to help prevent the development or advancement of colorectal cancer.