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Colon cancer is rapidly rising among younger age groups

For many people when they hear Colon Cancer they assume that it is a diseases that affects older people. Well, for the most part that assumption is pretty accurate as the American Cancer Society reports that the median age at diagnosis for colon cancer is 68 in men and 72 in women; for rectal cancer it is age 63 for both men and women. Those numbers make it pretty easy for younger age groups to dismiss or ignore warning signs or risk, but a new study is now warning those younger age groups that there is no safe zone just because of age.  New cases of colorectal cancer in adults under 55 have increased almost 2% every year since the mid-1990s, and death rates in this age group are also rising, even though colonoscopies are more common.

A study led by American Cancer Society researchers finds that new cases of colon cancer and rectal cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among young and middle-aged adults in the US. Once age is taken into account, those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950, when risk was lowest.

Why the rise?
Unfortunately, there is no known cause for the rise in colorectal cancer rates among the younger population. It is estimated that 25% of the cases can be attributed to family history of the disease or to hereditary conditions such as Lynch syndrome or FAP, but the majority have no associated risk factors. Many research studies are currently being conducted to help determine a possible cause for the steady rise in cases.

What can we do?
The most important factor in any cancer diagnosis is to find it at its earliest stage when it is treatable and beatable. Colon cancer is no different. Over 90% of colon cancer cases can be cured if found and treated early. Since screening does not apply to this age group, the following tips can help get young-onset patients diagnosed earlier:

  • Ask about family history of colorectal cancer and get screened earlier if necessary.
  • Get tested for hereditary conditions – know your risk.
  • Both patients and physicians should recognize the common signs and symptoms for CRC – changes in bowel habits, blood in stool, persistent abdominal pain – and take them seriously!

New Screening Guidelines

Because being tested is key to prevention, the American Cancer Society released updated screening guidelines in 2018. The new guidelines say that adults at average risk should first be tested at age 45 — 5 years younger than the previous recommendations.

When should you start getting screenings?

The American Cancer Society now recommends starting screening when you turn 45, if you’re at average risk for developing colon cancer; earlier, if you have a family history of the disease or other risk factors. Screening is the key to prevention!

The following symptoms could be signs of colon cancer. You should talk to a doctor if you have:

  • Persistent changes in your bowel habits. This includes constipation, diarrhea, or your stool’s consistency changes.
  • Blood in your stool / rectal bleeding
  • Persistent discomfort in your abdomen (pain, cramps, gas)
  • A feeling like you can’t empty your bowel completely
  • Persistent fatigue/weakness
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you have one or more of these symptoms you should see a doctor.  Many of these symptoms could be related to problems not related to colon cancer.  Your doctor can help determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan.

Remember: Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers through routine colonoscopy screening. Over 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided with screening.

Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio (GCSA) accepts most insurances, including HMO, PPO, Medicare and Medicaid plans.

Colonoscopies typically receive excellent insurance coverage, and we accept a wide variety of plans to make screening for colorectal cancer affordable for as many people as possible. However, your plan may still require some out-of-pocket contribution. We offer CareCredit® and in-house financing to make sure you can access this important procedure. To learn more about insurance and financial policies, visit our FAQ.

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