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Colorectal Cancer On the Rise in Younger People

Although the incidence of colorectal cancer has been decreasing in the past few decades, new cases of the disease in people in their 30s and 40s is growing. In response to this new data, in 2018, the American Cancer Society updated the guideline for colorectal cancer screening to start at age 45 for those at average risk, instead of the previous guideline of age 50.

The American Cancer Society analyzed data from 500,000 people diagnosed at age 20 or older with colon or rectal cancer. The researchers compared those born in the 1990s to those born in the 1950s, and found those born in the ‘90s have four times the risk of developing rectal cancer and double the risk of colon cancer compared to those born in the ‘50s.

“We are not sure exactly why this is happening, but obesity, lack of physical activity and diets high in red meat and low in fiber are likely contributing to this increased incidence,” says Ian White, MD, colorectal surgeon with Overlake Clinics.

Those who are at a higher risk should talk to their healthcare provider about type and frequency of screening. You may be at a higher risk if you have a history of colorectal cancer in your family (sibling, parent or child), a known genetic link, or a personal history of colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).

While there are several tests that screen for colorectal cancer, colonoscopy is considered the gold standard. “If an at-home test comes back positive, then a follow-up colonoscopy will be required,” says Dr. White.

If you notice a change in your bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation that lasts more than a few days), changes in the caliber of your stool, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, fatigue or unintended weight loss, be sure to check with your healthcare provider.

You can lower your risk for colorectal cancer by:

  • Getting screened.
  • Not smoking.
  • Drinking in moderation (two drinks a day for men, one for women).
  • Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limiting the amount of red and processed meats.
  • Managing your weight.
  • Staying active.

March is colon cancer awareness month and a good reminder to schedule your colorectal cancer screening. Talk to your healthcare provider about which screening test is right for you.