Updated May 31, 2018
When it comes to colon cancer, there is good news and bad news. Because more adults 50 years of age and older are getting colonoscopies and other screenings, overall rates of colorectal cancer in the U.S. have been declining dramatically since the mid-1980s.
The bad news? There has been a steady uptick in the disease among young adults, with rectal cancer increasing faster than colon cancer. As a result, in May 2018 the American Cancer Society lowered its colorectal screening recommended start age from 50 to 45 for people of average risk.
In addition, it’s more important than ever for millennials be aware of colon cancer symptoms and risk factors.
Studying colon cancer and millennials
Researchers from the American Cancer Society studied patients ages 20 years and older with colorectal cancer, looking at the records of 490,305 people who were diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer from 1974 through 2013. The data came from the highly regarded Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program registries.
According to the study, young adults may be more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage disease than older people. This may be largely because colon cancer is not typically on the radar of young adults and their health care providers, and they often don’t recognize the symptoms–sometimes for years.
Education and awareness are needed
Though the numbers of young people diagnosed with colon cancer is small, young adults need to become better educated about healthy lifestyle behaviors and the risk factors for colorectal cancers, including:
- Lack of activity
- Eating large amounts of red meat
Also, know you can lower your risk by eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and less red meat (beef or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats).
Know the signs of colon cancer
People of all ages should be aware of colorectal cancer signs and symptoms and report any changes to their doctor. Some of the common symptoms include:
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Anemia causing weakness and fatigue
New screening age
The study authors were first to suggest a new age for screening, pointing to data indicating that in 2013, 10,400 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in people in their 40s, with an additional 12,800 cases diagnosed in people in their early 50s. These numbers are similar to the total number of cervical cancers diagnosed, for which we recommend screening for the 95 million women ages 21 to 65 years.
In addition to colonoscopy, the U.S. Preventive Task Force considers the following methods acceptable screening tests for colorectal cancer: FOBT (Fecal Occult Blood Test), FIT (Stool DNA) and sigmoidoscopy. Talk to your doctor about colorectal cancer screening to determine the most appropriate course of action for you.