Young Adults’ Rising Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Friends group drinking cappuccino at coffee bar restaurant - People talking and having fun together at fashion cafeteria - Friendship concept with happy men and women at cafe - Warm vintage filter (Friends group drinking cappuccino at coffee bar restaYou may already know that the American Cancer Society (ACS) changed its former colonoscopy screening guidelines from age 50 to age 45 for those of average risk and no family history. But you may not know why.

The disease has seen a marked increase among young adults in the U.S. under age 55 at a rate of two percent each year since the mid-1990s. A study by the American Cancer Society, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that millennials* born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer, compared to people born near 1950.

Aside from a family history of colorectal cancer (CRC), the risks have included being overweight, eating processed deli meats, not eating enough fiber, drinking alcohol, smoking, and lack of exercise. But for young adults, it may also be that the thought of cancer, or getting earlier cancer screenings (like colonoscopy), may just not be on their radar. The ACS study cited that people younger than age 55 are 58 percent more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer than older people. Finding cancer early is key to treatment.

Overall U.S. colorectal cancer deaths for older men and women dropped 53 percent from 1970 to 2016. There are more than one million CRC survivors. That’s due to early detection through screenings, and improved treatments. Still, the American Cancer Society projects increases in colon cancer in 2019. Among the 101,420 new cases of colon cancer, with 51,020 deaths, and 44,180 new cases of rectal cancer diagnosed this year, younger adults will likely be included.

  • Talk to your doctor about family history and your own personal risk factors for CRC.
  • Ask about colonoscopy, plus the FIT (fecal immunochemical test) and stool DNA tests.
  • See your doctor ASAP if you have cramping, constipation, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, bloody stools, a change in stool color or shape, weakness, fatigue, or sudden weight loss.

Whether you’re a young adult — or you’re the parent of one — nobody is indestructible! Make dietary changes now (from fast and processed foods to lean proteins, low-fat dairy or fortified soy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). Don’t use tobacco. Avoid risky drinking. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise weekly (like 30 minutes a day, five days a week — or your choice).** Help defend yourself or someone you love against colorectal cancer.

By Lisa Miceli Feliciano

*Millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996.

** Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

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