You might believe that colon cancer is only a problem for older adults—but you’d be wrong. Colorectal cancer cases (which includes both colon and rectal cancers) in Americans under the age of 50 have increased by about 50% in the last thirty years, including new cases in people who are only in their 20s and 30s. Learn what you need to know to safe at any age from this serious disease.
Why Are Younger People Getting Colon Cancer?
Cases of younger people with colorectal cancer are on the rise. Researchers point to a variety of possible explanations. Most agree that our diet is one of the likely causes. People whose diets are high in sugary drinks, processed foods, and red meat—foods Americans are eating more and more of—have an increased likelihood of developing colon and rectal cancers. They’re also more likely to have a recurrence of cancer or to die from it, compared to people who eat lots of fresh and minimally processed foods.
How Can I Protect Myself from Colorectal Cancer?
Know the symptoms. Early symptoms of colorectal cancer include blood in your stool, a change in bowel habits, weight loss for no known reason, feeling bloated or fullness, lower stomach cramping, and fatigue. Report any of these symptoms to your primary care provider.
Early screening saves lives. While colorectal cancer is expected to be diagnosed 153,020 times and cause 52,550 deaths in 2023, when it’s detected early, it’s very treatable. This, coupled with the fact that many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in the early stage of the disease, makes early, regular screening a lifesaver. According to the American Cancer Society, adults should begin screening at age 45. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, let your health care provider know.
Eat healthy foods and move your body. More than half of all colorectal cancers are linked to risk factors that you have control over. That’s good news! Eating a healthy diet, including plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; not smoking or using tobacco products; being physically active; maintaining a healthy weight; and limiting or eliminating alcohol from your diet may protect you from colon and rectal cancers.
Do I Have to Have a Colonoscopy?
There are multiple choices for preventative screenings for colon cancer, including a colonoscopy, a sigmoidoscopy, or stool-based tests, such as the fecal-immunochemical test (FIT) or stool DNA test, both of which can be done at home. If you’re age 45 and at average risk with no symptoms, you can typically pick whichever screening method is most convenient for you. If you’re at higher risk due to family history or other risk factors, a colonoscopy will likely be recommended, and you may be advised to begin screening earlier. Speak with your primary care provider about which screening is best for you and at what age you should begin.