5 Things Young People Need to Know About Colon Cancer

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  • Most people think of colon cancer as a disease that occurs in middle age and beyond. But rates of colorectal cancer are actually increasing in young adults. People born in 1990 now have twice the risk of developing colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born in 1950, according to the American Cancer Society. And recent data show 11% of colon cancer diagnoses and 18% of rectal cancer diagnoses now occur in people under the age of 50. That’s why people of all ages need to be aware of colorectal cancer and their individual risk for it. These five facts can help you start the conversation with your doctor about colon cancer.

  • 1
    Colorectal cancer is highly treatable.

    Approximately 95% of cases are curable if caught early, according to the Susan Cohan Colon Cancer Foundation. Most forms of colon and rectal cancer are slow growing and begin as abnormal growths in the colon called polyps. Doctors can detect and remove polyps during a colonoscopy, an examination of the inside of the colon. Removing the polyps may prevent the development of cancer. Even colon cancer that has spread beyond the colon is treatable with surgery and chemotherapy.

  • 2
    Symptoms include a change in bowel habits.
    man holding stomach

    Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include diarrhea, constipation, or a narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days; blood in the stools or rectal bleeding; unintended weight loss; persistent abdominal pain, cramping or discomfort; and weakness or fatigue. It’s true that most of these symptoms can be caused by something other than cancer. But it’s best to get any unusual symptoms checked sooner rather than later.

  • 3
    Delay in diagnosis can be deadly.
    Man in hospital bed

    Stage 1 colorectal cancer—cancer which is caught at its earliest stage—has a 5-year survival rate of 92%. Stage 4 colorectal cancer—cancer that has spread to other parts of the body—has a 5-year survival rate of 11%. Unfortunately, people younger than age 55 are 58% more likely to be diagnosed with late-state colorectal cancer than older people, according to the American Cancer Society. Experts say this discrepancy may be because young people are not routinely screened for colon cancer.

  • 4
    Experts recommend screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 45.

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and American Cancer Society both say most people should begin screening for colorectal cancer at age 45. People who are at increased risk of colorectal cancer may need to start screening before age 45. If you have any of the following risk factors, ask your healthcare provider when you should begin screening: family history of colon cancer, rectal cancer, or polyps; ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; personal history of another type of cancer; and genetic alternations in an HNPCC or APC gene.

  • 5
    An estimated 50 to 75% of colon cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes.
    Woman biking

    Living a healthy lifestyle can drastically reduce your chances of developing colon or rectal cancer. Smoking increases the risk; quitting decreases it. Daily physical activity helps too. In fact, regular activity can decrease your risk of colorectal cancer by 50%, according to the Colon Cancer Alliance. Limiting your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men or one for women, along with eating more fruits and veggies and less red and processed meat may also decrease your risk of colorectal cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 19
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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