If you’re under age 50, you probably haven’t given much thought to your risk of developing colorectal cancer. But maybe you should.

Up until recently, colorectal cancer screenings have primarily focused on adults over the age of 50. And those screenings have been paying off. The overall rate of colorectal cancer in older Americans has decreased over the past few decades. But research published in JAMA shows a steady increase in colorectal cancer cases among younger Americans in recent years.

Colon cancer rates among adults under age 50 rose more than 11% between 2004 and 2013. Based on current trends, the incidence of colon cancer is expected to increase by 90% for adults ages 20 – 34 and nearly 28% for adults ages 35 – 49 by 2030, compared to 1975. Incidence rates for rectal cancer will increase even more. One in seven cases of colorectal cancer is now diagnosed in people under 50 and younger patients have a higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer at an advanced stage.

“We have seen this trend in our practice, with younger patients presenting with colorectal cancer. Some factors patients cannot control, such as genetics. But other factors can be changed: be more active, play sports, control your weight, eat a healthy diet with more grains, vegetables and fruits and less red meats and processed meats, avoid smoking and minimize alcohol use.

It is important to be aware of your family history, because if family members have had colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps, the screening may need to start before age 50. And always talk to your doctor about abnormal symptoms particularly bleeding with bowel movements. Don’t just assume that is coming from hemorrhoids and ignore it.”

Dr. Bryan N. Butler

Buffalo Medical Group

What are the Risks for Colorectal Cancer?

Lifestyle factors that put younger people at risk of colorectal cancer:

  • Unhealthy habits, including smoking, lack of exercise and heavy drinking.
  • Excess weight. More than one-third of the American population is obese.
  • A diet high in red and processed meats.
  • Insufficient health education and screening.

Things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Get regular physical exercise.
  • Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less red and processed meats.
  • Know the symptoms of colorectal cancer and don’t ignore them. Blood in the stool is a symptom you should discuss with your physician.

Know your family’s history of colorectal cancer and talk with your doctor about when you should get screened.

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