Colorectal cancer incidence and mortality on the rise for people under 50

contributing columnistMarch 15, 2014 

Dr. Amy Tiu

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, an ideal time to talk about the need for preventative screenings.

Colorectal cancer is especially prevalent in Kentucky, with incidence rates above the national average. In 2013, Kentucky ranked fourth in the nation for colon cancer deaths.

Both men and women are at risk for the disease. The American Cancer Society reports that nine out of 10 colon cancer diagnoses occur in adults older than 50, however, the rate of occurrence and mortality in people younger than 50, is on the rise, most notably with rectal cancer.

People under 50 generally don't think of colon cancer as a potential health risk. The common misconception is that colorectal cancer is an older person's disease and doesn't pose a threat to younger individuals. However, in the last 10 years, incidence rates in patients between the ages of 40-44 have shot up 67 percent. While this is the age group with the highest increase, every age group from 20-49 shows increases of at least 10 percent.

Health professionals attribute this rise to the lack of preventative screening and treatment sought by younger individuals. The message that doctors are trying to convey is that people under 50 are in fact at a normal risk for colorectal cancer and should consider preemptive screening to detect potentially dangerous polyps, commonly found on the lining of the colon and rectum.

Knowing your family history is of utmost importance. Underlying risk factors, like a personal history of polyps on the colon, inflammatory bowel disease or a strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, should be identified early and used to determine increased necessity for early screening.

If you have a family history of colon cancer, for example, the American Cancer Society recommends you begin screenings at age 40, or 10 years before the youngest case in the immediate family, whichever is earlier. And screening is a quick, painless process.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer are similar regardless of age. If you start to notice change in bowel movements, pain in the lower abdomen or blood in the stool, call your doctor and work to promptly identify and evaluate symptoms.

Together, we must make education a priority to increase early detection of colorectal cancer and its treatment at early stages. We must continue to inform younger individuals that they are also at risk and to start regular screenings early. There is a direct correlation between early treatment and decreased mortality for colorectal cancer.

As patients, remember that you are your own best advocate. Be vigilant of any health abnormalities or symptoms. Don't be afraid to seek a second opinion if you still have concerns.

If you are worried about your risk of colorectal cancer, or are interested in more information regarding screenings and treatment, call your doctor.

Dr. Amy Tiu is with KentuckyOne Health Gastroenterology Associates

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