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The Rise In Colon Cancer Among Younger Adults: What You Should Know to Cut Cancer Risk

Publication: The Jewish Outlook

Staying healthy is important at any age – and it could save your life. Case in point: Recent studies are shedding light on a concerning trend among those under the age of 50: a sharp rise in incidences of colon cancer.

People born around 1990 have more than twice the risk of a colon cancer diagnosis compared to those born around 1950, according to a study by the American Cancer Society. What’s more, cases in younger adults tend to be diagnosed as late-stage colon cancer attributed to a delay in seeing a doctor to address symptoms. According to the ACS data, adults younger than 55 are 58 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the late-stage disease than older adults.

While we can’t control everything about our health, the World Health Organization reports that 30 to 50 percent of all cancers may be preventable. That means there are steps you can take to improve your overall health.

Make a plan to protect yourself and your family through awareness, education, and prevention.

Tune in to What Your Body is Telling You.
Don’t let a lack of awareness determine your fate. While colon cancer rates are increasing in younger adults, the signs and symptoms are consistent no matter your age. The most common signs of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, the feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty all the way, unintentional weight loss, frequent bloating, gas, or cramps, and stools that are narrower than normal. If something seems concerning or you notice changes, reach out to your primary care physician.

Don’t Wait for Tomorrow When You Can Develop Healthy Habits Today.
Take steps to lower your cancer risk today. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding weight gain in the midsection can lower your risk. Adding fiber to your diet by eating vegetables, fruit, and whole grains is a great place to start. According to the ACS, being obese was associated with a 50 percent and 20 percent higher risks of colon cancer for men and women, respectively. Increasing your level of physical activity can also help lower your risk.

Smarten Up About Screenings.
Screening provides the opportunity to find and remove polyps before they develop into cancer, which typically takes around 10 to 15 years. Screening also allows cancer to be found early when it is easiest to treat. Speak with your physician about which test is best for you, as there are various tests used to screen for colorectal cancer. The ACS recommends patients start with a screening colonoscopy at the age of 45. However, people with a family history of colon cancer or polyps should consult a doctor about their risk and screening frequency.

Eliminate Smoking and Tobacco Use.
Research consistently shows that smokers who quit are more likely to live a healthier and longer life. In addition to decreasing lung cancer risk, smoking cessation is also linked to reducing risk for other cancers, including colon cancer. Options for reducing and eliminating tobacco use include nicotine replacements as well as resources and tips for starting your cessation journey. Talk to your primary care physician about how to quit, or contact the Quitline, a hotline supported by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Limit Alcohol Consumption.
While the link between smoking and cancer is common knowledge, patients are sometimes surprised to hear that limiting alcohol consumption also is a significant factor in preventing the disease. Alcohol use is linked to colon, rectum, mouth, throat, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, liver, and breast cancers. Alcohol affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, damages body tissue, raises levels of estrogen, and contributes to weight gain. When combined with other factors, such as smoking, the risk of cancer is significantly higher. To decrease this risk, it is recommended that men should limit intake to two drinks per day, and women to one drink a day.

Ask Questions and Take the Time to Get Familiar With Your Options.
If you are diagnosed with colon cancer, the recommended treatment will vary according to stage, location of the cancer within the colon, and other factors. Tests will be performed to determine the extent and characteristics of the cancer. The treatment of colon cancer typically consists of surgery and/or chemotherapy, and may involve a care team of physicians, a surgeon, a gastroenterologist, and other specialists.

A cancer diagnosis feels devastating at any age, and the rise in colon cancer among younger adults is a trend we should all be concerned about.

As a society, we’re making huge strides in the fight against cancer, but there is much work to be done. You can do your part one small step at a time by taking charge of your own prevention strategy. It’s about making progress, not perfection.

As we continue to find new ways to diagnose and treat patients, I am encouraged by advancements and research that offers hope for generations to come.

Athira Unnikrishnan, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Austin Midtown, 901 W. 38th St., Suite 200, in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit TexasOncology.com.

Read the full story at The Jewish Outlook.

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