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Colon Cancer Is on the Rise Among Millennials: What to Do About It

Colon Cancer Is on the Rise Among Millennials: What to Do About It

If you are among the Generation Xers or Millennials, you may be at increased risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to learn more about this serious health condition.

What does the research suggest about colon cancer among millennials?

The American Cancer Society led a large research study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. It included approximately 500,000 participants who were diagnosed with colon cancer or rectal cancer between 1974 and 2013.

Findings suggest that individuals born in 1990 have two times the risk of developing colon cancer and four times the risk of developing rectal cancer when compared to a group of participants born near 1950.

What are the risk factors for colon cancer?

There is a relationship between colorectal cancer, an unhealthy diet, obesity, and a lack of physical activity. Those who live relatively sedentary lives, eat a diet of highly-processed foods, and are not within the recommended weight range for their size and activity level may be increasing their risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer also runs in families, so it’s valuable to dig into your family history to see if colon cancer, rectal cancer, the prevalence of polyps, or other inherited cancer syndromes occur in your family.

Are there signs to look for?

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Dr. Josh Vandersteen, Ogden Clinic Gastroenterologist says:

“Colorectal cancer is typically silent. The symptoms don’t develop until the later stages when it becomes very difficult to remove.” He adds, “It’s very unfortunate that screening is only recommended at age 50 if there is no family history under the current guidelines.”

Symptoms of the condition include unusual weight loss, fatigue and weakness, abdominal pain, blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, changes in bowel movements lasting for over a few days, and a feeling of having to have a bowel movement that continues after having one.

“We need to change the screening recommendations or use other modalities to help detect these cancers earlier,” suggests Dr. Vandersteen. “Until then, it is important for all young people to advocate for themselves. Be aware of their symptoms and seek medical advice if there are any changes in bowel habits.”

How to Advocate for Yourself

Look into your family history of inheritable cancers. If you do have a family history of colorectal cancer, make sure to inform your primary care provider. The American Cancer Society has changed screening guidelines to begin slightly earlier, at age 45, for adults with a family history. This means that your screening colonoscopy could be covered by your insurance provider sooner than age 50 if family history is present. Early detection is key.

Take your bowel habits seriously. Any of the symptoms below are a valid reason to schedule a visit with your primary care provider or a gastroenterology specialist:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Dark stools, or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

joshua Vandersteen

Dr. Josh Vandersteen is a Gastroenterologist at South Ogden Family Medicine | Ogden Clinic and at our Specialty Center inside Layton Hospital. To schedule a visit with Ogden Clinic Gastroenterology, call 801-475-3380.