Colon cancer rates rising among young adults
Colon cancer isn’t usually a concern for those under the age of 50, but according to new research, it may become one. A recent study finds that this potentially deadly disease is rising among younger Americans.
“We are concerned with the rise we are seeing in colon cancer patients under the age of 50,” says Dr. James Stinneford, gastroenterologist at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “The reasons behind it, and finding a way to get a head of it, those are difficult questions to answer.”
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women, and the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society. Early colon cancer usually has no symptoms, and warning signs – rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits or cramping pain in the lower abdomen – typically occur when the disease is more advanced.
Researchers found that between 1988 and 2009, the biannual colon cancer rates rose by 2.7 percent among men 20 to 29 and 40 to 49. Among males 30 to 39, the increase was 3.5 percent.
In women, those 20 to 29 saw a 3.8 percent biannual increase, according to the study. For those in their 30s, there was a 4.5 percent increase, and women in their 40s saw a 2.6 percent increase.
In comparison, men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s saw a decrease in their colon cancer rates during the study period.
“The key to diagnosis is vigilance,” says Dr. Stinneford. “The symptoms are often ignored because the patient appears young and in good health. People must stay on top of their health, be in communication with their physician and track down these symptoms early.”
Current national guidelines set by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) recommend those 50 and older should have a colonoscopy every 10 years. For blacks, is recommended that they start at age 45.
“When it comes to prevention, people should follow the advice of physicians,” says Dr. Stinneford. “You should get screened at 50 if you don’t have any symptoms or risk factors, but if you have a family history or a heightened risk profile, follow your doctor’s advice as to when to get screened.”
“Screenings are available, but people aren’t taking advantage of them,” says. Dr. Stinneford. “There are a lot of distractions in the world, and people have busy lives, but we need to educate people to come and have the screening tests. They are effective, safe and comfortable.”