No one is quite sure why the rates of colon and colorectal cancer is rising so quickly in younger people, but the fact is more and more patients are being diagnosed at younger and younger ages.
This week, the American Cancer Society changed its screening guidelines for this deadly but easily preventable disease. The ACS now recommends that those at an average risk of colon or colorectal cancer have an initial colonoscopy just after their 45th birthday. The new guideline, lowered from age 50, will save more lives, says the ACS.
“Because of aggressive screening and growing public awareness, colorectal cancer has been declining in those over age 54 for the past 20 years,” says Dr. Darrien Gaston. “But we are very concerned about the 51% increase in this cancer among those who are younger than 50. Because they are not getting screened, because polyps are not being removed, because they are not getting preventive care, the death rate is actually rising among this younger population.”
The numbers are astounding. Those born around 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer than those born around 1950. Fully 30% of new rectal cancer cases are in patients under 55 years of age.
Dr. Gaston, like many other physicians and medical professionals, see indications that this dramatically increased risk - is caused by lifestyle changes. “These younger people are eating more processed foods and less natural fiber, they are much less active than the older generation and they are more likely to be obese.” If these trends continue, by 2030, those age 20-34 years old will see a 90% increase in colon cancer and a 124% increase in rectal cancer.
The ACS is recommending this younger screening for those at average risk of colon and rectal cancer. If you are at a higher risk - African-Americans, those with a family or personal history of colorectal cancers or polyps, those with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, or a history of radiation treatment in the belly or pelvic area - talk to Dr. Gaston about an earlier screening.
Unfortunately, colorectal cancers have few warning symptoms before later stages of the disease. Not matter what your age, if you are experiencing diarrhea or constipation for more than 2-3 days, have unusual cramping or pain in your abdomen or notice blood when toileting, call Dr. Gaston immediately for an urgent appointment.
If you or your loved one has celebrated their 45th birthday, make an appointment with Dr. Gaston to discuss your screening options. During your colonoscopy, Dr. Gaston will inspect your colon and rectum for cancer and easily remove any polyps, which have the potential to develop into cancer.
“Colonoscopies prevent cancer,” says Dr. Gaston. “And now, with the new ACS guidelines, we have the potential to save more lives.”