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If You Were Born in The 90s, You Should Be Paying Attention to Colorectal Cancer

If You Were Born in The 90s, You Should Be Paying Attention to Colorectal Cancer

You may have heard a similar story in your own network – the 30-something dad diagnosed with colorectal cancer, who had thought for months that his rectal bleeding was caused by hemorrhoids. If that sounds young to you, it is. But a few years ago, a key American Cancer Society report found that people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950.

The unfortunate reality is that cases like this are becoming more common, and colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among people under 50 in the U.S. 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.

These shifts in incidence rates in large part led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to lower the colonoscopy screening recommendation down to 45 years old from 50. But for the most affected group, many are still a ways from hitting that 45-year requirement.

So what’s your best defense if a screening colonoscopy isn’t in the cards just yet? Looking at different types of cancer, colorectal cancer has the strongest connection to diet, weight and exercise. In addition to eating healthy and staying active, doctors stress being aware of suspicious symptoms, and better yet, acting on them. Let’s break down some examples of symptoms you should not ignore:

  • Blood coming from the rectum, in the stool or in the toilet after a bowel movement
  • Dark or black stools, which could indicate bleeding from a tumor
  • Narrow, thin or ribbon-like stools, which could mean a tumor is obstructing your bowels or rectum
  • Loose stool (diarrhea) or constipation (less than three bowel movements a week), especially if the changes last two weeks or more
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain

Doctors recommend colonoscopies for people of all ages who have symptoms such as rectal bleeding that they can’t diagnose with a different problem. If you experience these symptoms, start with your primary care provider. For those with rectal bleeding, for example, your doctor can often feel if there is a mass during a physical exam or detect blood in the stool and then refer you for a colonoscopy.

A family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, and conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease are also risk factors. If you have a family history, your doctor may recommend colonoscopy screening at 40 or 10 years before the age when your family member was diagnosed.