Why Younger People Should Have Colon Cancer Concerns
It is a common misconception that only older adults should be concerned about colon or colorectal cancer. Prior to 2018, the colon cancer screening guidelines for men and women recommended patients have their first screening by age 50, but in May 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered these guidelines to age 45. This change is because more and more young patients are contracting the disease, which is cause for alarm. Read on to learn more about colon cancer, symptoms you should not ignore at any age, and how lifestyle changes can help prevent the occurrence of colon cancer and other cancers.
Dangerous Reality of Undetection
Colon cancer poses a very serious risk if it goes undetected. A routine colonoscopy screening, which is now recommended at age 45 although most insurance policies begin coverage at age 50, can detect not only precancerous and cancerous polyps, the colonoscope can also remove the polyps during the procedure. This is in part why colonoscopy is the gold standard of colorectal cancer screening. Colon cancer, when caught in its earliest stages (stage I through II), has survival rates upward of 90 percent. When colon cancer goes undiagnosed and progresses to later stage IIIc, IV, or V, the survival rate drops significantly. The five-year survival rate for stage V is 14 percent. This is why early detection is so important.
Essentially, this means don’t ignore your symptoms or the notion that your body feels “off,” even if you are well under the recommended screening threshold of age 45. A recent study has shown a spike of colon cancer-related cases in the age 20-29 group. This age group is perhaps faced with the most danger of going undiagnosed, as regular colon checkups at age 20-29 are uncommon. Several symptoms should never go ignored, no matter your age:
- Changes in bowel habits (frequent diarrhea, constipation, or other problems that do not go away)
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal cramping or persistent upset
- Persistent, unexplained fatigue or tiredness
These symptoms could easily be the outcome of a different gastrointestinal issue, but they are all common symptoms of colorectal cancer and, if these symptoms persist, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Who Should Be Screened?
Men and women should have their first colonoscopy at age 45, and no later than age 50. However, there are other risk factors involved that could precipitate an earlier screening. You should discuss with your doctor if you or a first-degree relative have a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). A personal or family history of diabetes is also important to share with your doctor. If anyone in your immediate family has a history of colorectal cancer or polyps, you should inform your doctor right away. Some inherited syndromes are also correlated with colon cancer, such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). Those of Ashkenazi Jewish or African-American descent are more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer. All of these risk factors are genetic in nature, and these are things you can’t alter; however, there are other risk factors for colon cancer that are associated with lifestyle habits that can be changed.
Factors You Can Change
You can’t change your family history or ethnic background, but you can change how you take care of your body. Certain behaviors are linked to cases of colon cancer, especially in the younger generation. Being overweight or obese is linked to colon cancer. Doctors suggest physical activity and a non-sedentary lifestyle, with a diet full of leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and grains. Weight loss can be difficult for some patients, but many gastrointestinal specialists can also help patients with weight loss for those who need it.
Smoking is another habit linked to colon cancer cases, as well as heavier or alcoholic drinking. The Centers for Disease Control recommended only having one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men. Eating red and processed meats has also been linked to colon cancer, especially in younger women. Patients are advised to avoid processed lunch meats and meat such as beef and lamb in favor of healthier proteins such as chicken, fish, and grains.
Taking care of your body, regular colonoscopy screenings, and knowledge about preventative care can help when it comes to colon cancer. If you need more information about the disease or would like to schedule an appointment for a colonoscopy, request an appointment today at Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah. We have five locations in Georgia and one location in South Carolina, for convenience when it comes to your health care.