Research shows that the risk of colorectal cancer increases with age, but experts have noticed a disturbing trend – incidence rates are rising rapidly among younger generations. A recent study by the American Cancer Society found that people born in 1990 have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born in the 1950s.
If these figures prove one thing, it’s that you’re never too young to worry about colorectal cancer. With over 140,000 diagnoses and 50,000 deaths each year, it is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. When discovered in its earliest stages, colorectal cancer is considered one of the most treatable types of cancers. However, low screening rates and failure to recognize symptoms means that the disease is often not detected until it has reached advanced stages.
Current screening guidelines recommend that individuals of average risk begin screening colonoscopies at the age of 50. This means that younger patients are typically not covered for colonoscopies unless they display certain symptoms or risk factors. While colorectal cancer often does not produce symptoms in its earliest stages, some patients may experience:
- Rectal bleeding
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrow stools
- Abdominal pain
- Increased gas production
- Stools that are bloody, black or tarry
- Unexplained weight loss
In addition to these symptoms, there are certain risk factors that should prompt you to discuss colorectal cancer risk with your doctor. These include:
- Age – Over 90 percent of all colon cancers develop in people over the age of 50
- Family history – Having a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer places you at increased risk. Talk to your doctor about earlier screening times for added protection.
- Obesity – People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of colorectal cancer incidence and morbidity.
- Smoking and alcohol use – These lifestyle choices increase the risk of many cancers, including colorectal cancer.
- Sedentary lifestyle – According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, sedentary behavior increases colon cancer risk by 24 percent.
- Diet – High intake of red meat and processed meat is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
If you experience worrisome symptoms or if you are concerned about certain risk factors, schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor about colorectal cancer. While it’s possible that your symptoms can be attributed to less serious digestive issues, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Early detection and intervention gives you the best odds of treating – and beating – colorectal cancer.