Colon cancer on the rise in young adults
I recently read a disturbing report that colon cancer is on the rise in Millenials and GenXers.
People born in 1990 now have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer, compared with those born around 1950 when the risk was lowest, the researchers said.
The overall risk is still very low for that age group, but the study certainly suggests that lifestyle factors—obesity, diets high in processed foods, sedentary habits—could be a factor.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month!
A healthy diet and exercise are a large part of the American Cancer Society’s Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colon Cancer.
- Get screened for colon cancer. Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 50 for most people; talk to your doctor about when you should start and which tests might be right for you.
- Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon cancer. Eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats), which have been linked with an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Get regular exercise. If you are not physically active, you have a greater chance of developing colon cancer. Increasing your activity may help reduce your risk.
- Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting and dying from colon cancer.
- Don’t smoke. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colon cancer.
- Limit alcohol. Colon cancer has been linked to heavy drinking. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).
More tips from a gastroenterologist
GI docs, or gastroenterologists, are the specialists that deal with most cases of colon cancer. They also do the majority of colonoscopies in this country.
This post from a GI doc offers a few more tips to reduce your risk of colon cancer or catch it in an early stage when it’s most treatable. He also stresses diet and exercise.
Related post: Ode to the gastroenterologist
- Know your family history
Your risk depends in large part on your family history, your age, and your personal health history. Have a discussion with your physician about screening guidelines.
- Get screened
Have a discussion with your physician about your personal risk of colon cancer and the risks and benefits of screening.
At this time, the colonoscopy is probably the most effective screening tool.
For adults with an average risk, a colonoscopy at age 50 and then every 10 years is recommended.
A colonoscopy is more reliable if it’s done by someone very experienced, and if the bowel prep is done properly. Anyone who has had a colonoscopy knows the bowel prep is not fun, but it’s very important. If your colon is not squeaky clean, the chance of missing a polyp, a precancerous lesion, is very high.
It’s also a waste of time, money and gives a false sense of security.
If you can’t do the prep adequately, talk with your physician about other ways to screen, such as a virtual CT scan or a simple stool test. The stool tests, which look for minute amounts of blood in your poop, were the standard for many, many years and are very inexpensive. (A good choice if you don’t have insurance.)
- Change your lifestyle
Risk assessment/screening doesn’t prevent colon cancer; but it can catch cancer at an early stage when it’s more easily treated.
A healthy lifestyle, however, can help prevent colon cancer.
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t drink too much alcohol
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat more fiber
- Eat less red meat and fewer processed meats
Of course, there are no 100% guaranteed ways to prevent any type of cancer, but knowing your risk factors and modifying your lifestyle can help.
Bonus—these healthy habits can lower your risk of many other debilitating and expensive diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia and several other types of cancers.