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Why Are So Many Younger People Getting Colorectal Cancer?

  • Category: Cancer, Gastroenterology
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Dr. Scott Daugherty, Colon & Rectal Surgery
Why Are So Many Younger People Getting Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among people under 50 in the United States. The statistic is especially puzzling considering the rate of colorectal cancer has plummeted among older adults, largely because of regular colonoscopies and lower rates of smoking.

Experts aren’t sure exactly what’s causing the jump in colorectal cancer among young adults, but they can agree that certain risk factors raise the risk of colorectal cancer in older adults, including obesity, physical inactivity and smoking.

For the younger demographic, one thing is clear -- unhealthy diets and inactivity are much more common than in past decades, and the rates of obesity continue to climb. There’s mounting evidence linking an unhealthy diet—in particular, one high in processed meat and fat, and low in fruits and vegetables—to early-onset colorectal cancer.

Making lifestyle changes is important to lower you risk, but here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Know your family history – a person is 2 to 3 times more likely to develop colon cancer if a parent, sibling or child has had it, and that jumps to 3 to 6 times if that relative was diagnosed at a young age.
  • Know the symptoms – many people chalk up constipation, changes in their bowel movements, or blood in their stool as something else, especially if they are otherwise healthy.
  • Get screened -- The American Cancer Society has moved their recommendation for colonoscopies from 50 to 45. While it’s one of the most deadly cancers, it’s one of the most preventable.
  • Know if you’re at risk – Family history is a top risk factor, and numerous studies have associated a person’s lifestyle to colon cancer (i.e., tobacco usage, obesity). In addition, death rates are 40% higher for African Americans than any other ethnic group.

If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, or you’ve experienced symptoms that persist, like constipation, changes in bowel movements, or blood in your stool, take action. Your physician can refer you to a gastroenterologist to start the conversation.

Ray Scott Daugherty, Jr., MD
Baton Rouge General Physicians - Colon and Rectal Associates 
(225) 763-4820