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Colorectal Cancer on the rise in adults under age 50

Posted: 3/24/2017
Colorectal Cancer on the rise in adults under age 50

A recent study released in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that the rate of colorectal cancer diagnosis in adults under the age of 50 is increasing.  Overall the incidence of colorectal cancer has been decreasing, but the decrease has largely been driven by people who are 55 and older, for whom the rate of colorectal cancers has dropped dramatically in recent years.  The rise in adults under 50 is alarming because the recommended age to begin screening isn't until age 50, so often times, people who develop cancer prior to age 50 catch it at a much later stage since they aren't being screened regularly.  There is also concern that as these generations grow older, the incidence of cancer could begin to rise in older adults as well.

Although the data clearly shows the incidence of colorectal cancer diagnosis is on the rise in adults under 50, the cause is yet unknown.  There is still plenty of research to be done on the topic to determine what overall impact this will have on society.  While it may be premature to change the recommended age for colorectal screening based on the results of one study, it is still important for people of all ages to know the most common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer. 

Some of these signs include rectal bleeding, dark stools, blood in the stool, abdominal pain, weakness or fatigue, and unintended weight loss.  A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrow stool that lasts for more than a few days, is also a possible symptom of colorectal cancer.  Another common sign is feeling like you need to have a bowel movement, but don't feel relieved by doing so.  While these could also be signs and symptoms of other conditions much more benign than cancer, it is important not to ignore any symptoms that are out of the ordinary, and see a doctor right away if symptoms persist.

There are a number of risk factors for colorectal cancer to be aware of as well.  Anyone with a personal or family history of polyps or colorectal cancer is going to have an increased risk of cancer.  People with a history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, will also be at increased risk of colorectal cancer.  People can also be put at higher risk of colorectal cancer by inheriting certain genetic conditions.  These include familial adenomatous polyposis, Lynch syndrome, Turcot syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, and MUTYH-associated polyposis.  People who develop type II diabetes also increase their risk of colorectal cancer.

The good news is there are also some healthy lifestyle choices to make that can actually help to lower your risk of colon and rectal cancers.  You can lower your risk by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while eating less red meat and processed meat.  Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight can also lower your risk, as can avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

Despite being the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, colorectal cancers are among the most preventable and most treatable cancers.  And despite the recent sharp increase in diagnoses, colorectal cancers are still rare in patients under 50.  Making yourself aware of the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of colorectal cancer is one of the best ways to protect yourself.  Talk to your primary care doctor about a prevention plan that works for you.  The providers of Community Care Physicians are here to help!

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