The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published in February 2017 that colorectal cancer in young adults has risen dramatically in generations born after 1950. Those currently between the ages of 18-27 have 2 times the risk of developing colon cancer and 4 times the risk of developing rectal cancer than people born in the 1950s were when they were between those ages.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer develops in the colon or rectum and can be referred to as either colon cancer or rectal cancer. Most begin with a polyp appearing on the inner lining of the rectum. Polyps are more common in people age 50 or above. If a polyp is cancerous, the cells can spread to the wall of the colon or rectum, and then to the blood or lymph vessels of the colon or rectum and eventually metastasize throughout the body. Symptoms of colon or rectal cancers can include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Changes in bowel movements (diarrhea, constipation) that last for more than a few days
Why is Colorectal Cancer More Common in Younger People Than in the Past?
Scientists and researchers aren’t exactly sure of a specific reason, but some studies suggest factors like:
- An increase in sedentary lifestyles that consist of little to no physical activity
- Negative changes in diet or poor nutrition
- The rise in obesity cases within this age range (18-27)
Advances in early cancer detection could also help explain why more of these cases are being found in younger people. Researchers continue to work towards finding other contributing factors for developing colon cancer.
What Can I Do to Prevent Colorectal Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, there are some risk factors that are within your control and can help prevent cancer:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Limit consumption of processed meats and red meats
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Quit smoking
Talking to your doctor about getting screened for colon cancer is arguably the most effective way you can reduce your risk. There are screening options throughout the state of Virginia and helpful resources to learn more, including free colorectal cancer screenings for some. Colon cancer screening methods include fecal blood tests and colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, your doctor will check the lining of the colon for growths using a flexible tube with a viewing lens. If any abnormal growths are detected, the doctor is able to remove those from the colon.
The recommended age for colon cancer screening is 50, and regular screenings thereafter until age 75. Young adults that have a family history of colorectal cancer, or are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, should ask their doctor how early and how often they should be tested.