Colorectal Cancer Increasing in Young Adults | by Jennifer L.W. Fink

Colorectal Cancer Increasing in Young Adults

Posted on Thu, Apr 19, 2018

According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Fortunately, colorectal cancer is also relatively easy to detect and treat. Medical studies suggest that using a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer can reduce cancer deaths by 60 to 70 percent. In some cases, doctors can even intervene and remove worrisome growths before they have a chance to turn into cancer.

Widespread screening is one reason why fewer older adults are developing and dying from colorectal cancer. Deaths due to colorectal cancer among people age 50 and older declined 34% between 2000 and 2014; diagnoses in this age group decreased 32%, according to the American Cancer Society.

Unfortunately, colorectal cancer rates are increasing in younger adults. In fact, the National Cancer Institute says that if current trends continue, by 2030, colon cancer incidence rates will increase by 90 percent for people ages 20 to 34 and 28 percent for people ages 35 to 49.

“The earlier we catch it,” Shields says, “the easier it is to treat.”

Seek Medical Attention for Symptoms

Unfortunately, the symptoms of colorectal cancer can be vague — and therefore, easy to ignore. Even well-meaning healthcare professionals sometimes downplay the potential seriousness of symptoms.

That’s why self-advocacy is so important.

“You know your body better than anybody else. So, when you feel like something is not right, step up,” says Melissa Shields, oncology nurse navigator at Sky Ridge Medical Center. “We don’t want to lose any more people to this horrible disease.”

Symptoms that should be reported to a healthcare professional include:

  • A change in bowel habits. “If there’s any change in what your stool looks like — if there’s blood in it, if it’s dark — or if you’re going more or less frequently, get it check out,” Shields says.
  • Abdominal or back pain, especially pain that recurs or doesn’t go away after a day or so.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Weakness or fatigue.

“Anything that is abnormal, that doesn’t make sense to you, that you feel is wrong — push for your doctor to dig a little bit deeper,” Shields says.

The Who & When of Screening

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults at average risk for colorectal cancer begin regular, annual colorectal cancer screening at age 50. However, that recommendation does not mean that younger adults cannot be screened for colon cancer.

In fact, anyone with a family history of colorectal cancer should begin regular screenings when they are 10 years younger than the youngest age of diagnosis in their family. And young adults with symptoms of colorectal cancer should expect to undergo screening as well.

Acceptable methods of colorectal cancer screening, according to USPSTF, include:

  • Fecal occult blood tests, which tests for blood in the stool
  • Stool DAN test (FIT-DNA), which looks for cancer biomarkers
  • Sigmoidoscopy, an internal exam of the sigmoid colon
  • Colonoscopy, an internal exam of the entire colon
  • Virtual colonoscopy, a CT scan of the colon

“The earlier we catch it,” Shields says, “the easier it is to treat.”


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