You may not consider your colon health to be a glamorous subject, and you almost certainly don’t bring it up the same way you talk about new workout gear or your latest personal record. But maybe you should since colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the U.S.
Colon cancer has always been considered rare in young adults. You have probably heard the guidelines: Anyone between the ages of 50 and 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer regardless of family history. And that’s still true – the majority of colorectal cancers are still found in people over 50. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than one million people in the U.S. are living with colorectal cancer.
On the rise
But a recent study by the American Cancer Society found that new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among younger adults, including people in their 20s and 30s. Once age is taken into account, those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950, when risk was lowest.
Regardless of how old you are, Safa advises, your risk of colorectal cancer increases significantly if you have a parent or sibling with the disease. “A family history of cancer in relatives such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents is also relevant, and that information should be shared with your doctor.”
It is also important to let your doctor in on the details if you notice certain changes. Here are a few signs you should not ignore:
• Blood in your stool
• Changes in bowel habits
• Constipation or diarrhea
• Alternating constipation and diarrhea
• Abdominal bloating, cramps, or discomfort
• A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
• Extreme, unexplained weight loss.
Screening can save lives
“Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer do not always cause symptoms, which is one reason screening is so important,” Safa said. “Most cases of colorectal cancer start as a growth called a polyp inside the colon. Screening can find polyps, and they can then be removed before they become cancer. If you wait for symptoms to develop, the disease is likely to be in an advanced state.”
Talk with your doctor to decide on an appropriate screening schedule. “Colonoscopies remain the standard for screening, but it is important to consult your doctor about which screening is right for you,” Safa noted.