A common misconception is that colon cancer only affects older individuals. However, the incidence of young-onset colon cancer has been on the rise for over a decade, and the rates continue to steadily increase. Today, 11 percent of new cases of colon cancer and 18 percent of new cases of rectal cancer are in adults younger than 50.
Women are especially at risk for young-onset colon cancer. Since May is Women’s Health Month, let’s look at a few reasons colon cancer rates are increasing among young women:
Since the female body is biologically engineered to carry and sustain life, women naturally tend to store more fat than men. Menstrual cycles and pregnancy are associated with weight gain, and female hormones powerfully resist weight loss. Additionally, as women approach menopause, metabolism slows down. It can become difficult to lose weight, especially around the midsection. This excess body fat around the stomach significantly increases the risk for colon cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 41 percent of Americans are clinically obese. Obesity rates in women are steadily increasing, while obesity rates in men are staying the same. With the increased rates in women, we should expect to see a proportional increase in colon cancer incidence.
With the majority of women working outside the home, keeping up with the household, and caring for family, they are increasingly taking on added stress. Women often put aside their own health needs by ignoring symptoms and delaying preventative screenings which could identify signs of cancer.
Colon cancer is greater than 90 percent treatable when it is detected early, but early-stage colon cancer is often asymptomatic. Warning signs like rectal bleeding, blood in stool, change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, weight loss and anemia are usually associated with advanced colon cancer.
Colon cancer warning signs can often be mistaken for hemorrhoids, IBS or a viral infection. Women might confuse colon cancer symptoms with gynecological symptoms like menstrual bloating or menstrual pain, and rectal bleeding could even be dismissed as vaginal bleeding.
The hard truth is that no one is too young for colon cancer. As the third-leading cause of cancer death, it is imperative to know the warning signs and to be aware of your own personal risk. Colon cancer prevention requires everyone, especially women, to be proactive about their health and to get screened at the appropriate time.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends that colon cancer screenings begin at 50 years of age for men and women who are at average risk, but risk factors like inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), family or personal history of colon cancer or polyps, or family history of a hereditary colon cancer syndrome (like familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome) could lower your screening age.
Talk to your doctor about when you should get your first colonoscopy. It is the only screening that can both detect and prevent colon cancer. During your colonoscopy, your doctor can find and remove precancerous colon polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer.
Our board-certified gastroenterologists can perform your procedure at an outpatient screening center that provides quality, personal care at a lower cost than a hospital. Click here for more information.
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