Submitted by Ochsner Health
Previously, colorectal cancer was a cause for concern among middle-age and older men and women. Traditionally, the standard guidelines recommend men and women to get their first screening at age 50 and then once every 10 years. Certain people have been recommended to start screening earlier, including African American men and women at 45 years old and people with a family history of colon cancer at 40 years of age. However, within the past couple of years, there has been a rise in colorectal cancer in people younger than 40, making them at risk for undetected colon cancer.
According to a study by the American Cancer Society, young adults born in 1990 have double the risk for colon cancer and four times the risk for rectal cancer compare to people born in 1950. While the combined age rate of colorectal cancer diagnoses has dropped since the ‘80s, the rate for diagnosis in adults under 50 has increased.
While it is unclear why colorectal cancer is increasing among young adults, there are many possible causes, including obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, eating a lot of red meat, heavy alcohol consumption and genetics.
It’s important to be aware and actively monitor the most common symptoms, which include:
Changes in bowel movements: Monitor any changes that last for over two weeks such as diarrhea, constipation, infrequent bowel movements or a feeling of not completely being able to relieve yourself within a bowel movement.
Rectal bleeding: This includes bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool. Watch for black colored stool, which can be an indicator of colonic bleeding.
Unusual Stools: Get to know your poop. Look for any differences in your stool from color or shape. Be especially aware of thin pencil-like stools which could be an indicator that a tumor may be blocking your bowel movements.
Abdominal pain: Many people with colorectal cancer have reported feeling cramps or stomach pains.
Know your family history: If anyone in your immediate family has had colon cancer, especially at a younger age, it’s best to get screened in your 30s.
The best thing you can do to prevent and treat colon cancer is to speak to your doctor about any concerns. They may recommend you do a colonoscopy to figure out what may be causing your symptoms. A colonoscopy is nothing to fear and is the most sensitive way to determine if there is anything abnormal in the colon. If detected early, polyps can be removed and prevent colon cancer from forming. It’s also important to note there are many things you can start doing now to prevent colorectal cancer, such as quitting smoking, exercising, limiting alcohol consumption and consuming 25 grams of fiber a day.
Is it time for your colonoscopy? An Ochsner gastroenterologist or gastroenterology nurse practitioner can discuss your history and risk factors and order the necessary tests. Schedule an appointment today! Ochsner.org/services/gastroenterology