If you’re a young adult, chances are that getting screened for colorectal or colon cancer isn’t on your list of priorities. But you might want to reconsider that perspective following a recent study by the American Cancer Society. The study found an alarming growth in the number of colon cancer cases in adults under age 50 in the United States. In fact, we’re seeing more and more colon cancer cases with patients in their 20s and 30s.
Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. that affects both men and women. This type of cancer occurs when abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum. These polyps are often precancerous and can turn cancerous over time. Colorectal cancer screenings allow doctors to find and remove the growths before they turn cancerous.
Colon cancer screenings are especially important because the disease doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms. When they do occur, symptoms may include blood in the stool after bowel movements, stomach aches or pains that don’t go away, unexplained weight loss and fatigue. If you’re experiencing any combination of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician and ask about colon cancer screenings.
The American Cancer Society recommends colorectal cancer screening starting at age 45; while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening starting at age 50. Certain groups are at a greater risk for developing colon cancer and should be screened earlier. This includes people with a family history of colon cancer. Lack of regular exercise, diets low in fruits and vegetables, and frequent alcohol or tobacco use can also increase your risk for the disease. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor and ask if they recommend a screening.
The most common screening tests administered to find precancerous polyps include stool screenings, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. These tests are quick and easy, and cause minimal to no pain. A stool screening allows doctors to detect any traces of blood or cancerous cells in the stool. Flexible sigmoidoscopies and colonoscopies both use a thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine when you should be screened, and which procedure is right for you.
If you or a loved one suspect you have colon cancer symptoms, have a family history of colon cancer, have several risk factors or are over the age of 45-50, schedule a colorectal cancer screening today.
To learn more about colorectal cancer screening and treatment, contact your primary care provider or call 859.313.2255 to schedule an appointment or receive assistance with a provider referral.
Dr. Martin is with the Cancer Care Center at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Oncology and Hematology.