Many people understand that at age 50 they should schedule a colonoscopy. Typically, this is what doctors recommend. You’re not alone if you see that number and give a sigh of relief because you still have a decade in front of you before colorectal cancer becomes a risk. However, research has determined that colorectal cancer is on the rise for adults under the age of 50. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance surveyed 1,535 colorectal cancer survivors across 26 countries who were all diagnosed before the age of 50. Because symptoms of colorectal cancer are similar to other conditions and easy to miss, especially at an early stage, 82% were misdiagnosed. It’s important for you, even if you are below the age for a recommended screening, to understand the risk factors of colorectal cancer and the valuable research this study provides.
Of those surveyed, more than half were diagnosed with colorectal cancer between the ages of 40 and 49. Those between the ages of 30 and 39 made up 34%, and 8% were under the age of 30. Colon cancer was significantly more prevalent among the survivors—71% were diagnosed with colon cancer and only 28% diagnosed with rectal cancer. Because screening is not recommended until age 50 and many people do not consider the possibility of colorectal cancer, 73% were diagnosed at stage III or IV. The research clearly shows a rise in cancer diagnosis for those that are typically considered too young to be at risk. Within the next 12 years, colon cancer is expected to increase by 90% and rectal cancer by 124% for patients who are 35 or younger.
What To Look For
While symptoms of colorectal cancer are difficult to pinpoint, especially in the early stages, there are several signs that may indicate you are at a higher risk for a cancer diagnosis. A family history of colorectal cancer is one of those signs. Even though the study recorded that 62% of those diagnosed did not have a family history of colorectal cancer, it’s important information to share with your doctor and you may be encouraged to be screened earlier. Colorectal cancer patients under the age of 35 may have a genetic abnormality that puts them at a higher risk. Genetic testing for Lynch Syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) may be necessary in order to give you peace of mind or confirm your risk for colorectal cancer. Lynch Syndrome occurs if there are mutations in your genes that prevent mistakes in the DNA from being repaired. If the genes stop working properly, you are more susceptible to cancer. FAP is a genetic condition where polyps form in the colon. Without diagnosis and treatment of FAP, there is a 100% chance that colon cancer will form. Both Lynch Syndrome and FAP are hereditary, so find out if anyone in your family have been diagnosed to know whether or not you need genetic testing in order to prepare for, or prevent, a future cancer diagnosis. Lastly, the easiest way to identify the potential for colorectal cancer is a change in bowel movements. Sometimes the early stages of colorectal cancer can easily be misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, so be sure to talk to your doctor if you notice sudden changes in your weight, abdominal pain, thinning of stool, blood in your stool, or a very dark stool. These can be indicators of colorectal cancer.
Can Colorectal Cancer Be Avoided?
Lifestyle adjustments are certainly encouraged in order to lower your risk for colorectal cancer. Maintain a healthy weight by eating properly and exercising regularly. Exercise 20-30 minutes each day and avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Limit your consumption of red meat and get the majority of your protein from a plant-based diet. It is recommended that at each meal two-thirds of your plate should be filled with fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, or whole grains and the remaining third with animal-based foods. Avoid tobacco products and limit your consumption of alcohol.
If you have concerns about your family history or your risk for colorectal cancer, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with Dr. Islam. He is a highly regarded gastroenterologist in Lubbock, Texas who will help you discern when screening is necessary in an attempt to avoid a late diagnosis.