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Rise in colon cancer among younger adults

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Staying healthy is important at any age – and it could save your life. Case in point: Recent studies are shedding light on a concerning trend among those under the age of 50: a sharp rise in incidences of colon cancer.

People born around 1990 have more than twice the risk of a colon cancer diagnosis compared to those born around 1950, according to a study by the American Cancer Society. What’s more, cases in younger adults tend to be diagnosed as late-stage colon cancer attributed to a delay in seeing a doctor to address symptoms. According to the ACS data, adults younger than 55 are 58 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the late-stage disease than older adults.

It’s never too late to develop healthy habits. Make a plan to protect yourself and your family through awareness, education and prevention.

Tune in to what your body is telling you. Don’t let a lack of awareness determine your fate. While colon cancer rates are increasing in younger adults, the signs and symptoms are consistent no matter your age. The most common signs of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, the feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty all the way, unintentional weight loss, frequent bloating, gas, or cramps, and stools that are narrower than normal. If something seems concerning or you notice changes, reach out to your primary care physician.

Don’t wait for tomorrow when you can develop healthy habits today. Take steps to lower your cancer risk today. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain in the midsection can lower risks. Adding fiber to your diet by eating vegetables, fruit and whole grains is a great place to start. Being overweight or obese was associated with a 53 percent and 54 percent higher risks of colon cancer for men and women, respectively. Increasing the level of physical activity can also help lower your risk.

Smarten up about screenings. Screening provides the opportunity to find and remove polyps before they develop into cancer, which typically takes around 10 to 15 years. Screening also allows cancer to be found early when it is easiest to treat. Speak with your physician about which test is best for you, as there are various tests used to screen for colorectal cancer. The ACS recommends patients start with a screening colonoscopy at the age of 45; however, a family history of colon cancer or polyps suggests beginning screening at least 10 years prior to the age of the youngest family member at the time of their colon cancer diagnosis.

Ask questions and take the time to get familiar with your options. If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, the recommended treatment will vary according to stage, location of the cancer within the colon, and other factors. Tests will be performed to determine the extent and characteristics of the cancer. The treatment of colon cancer typically consists of surgery and/or chemotherapy, and may involve a care team of physicians, a surgeon, a gastroenterologist, and other specialists.

A cancer diagnosis feels devastating at any age, and the rise in colon cancer among younger adults is a trend we should all be concerned about. As we continue to find new ways to diagnose and treat patients, I am encouraged by advancements and research that offers hope for generations to come.

Rebecca Wiatrek, M.D., is a surgical oncologist at Texas Oncology Surgical Specialists–Austin Central, 6204 Balcones Dr. in Austin. For more information, visit TexasOncology.com.

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