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What Young People Need to Know about Colon Health

Jessica Francis

young onset colon cancer

Disney starlet Bella Thorne may be best known for her role on the former hit TV show “Shake It Up,” but that’s not what had this 18 year old making headlines last summer. Thorne underwent a colonoscopy, a procedure typically reserved for men and women over the age of 50. And in true teenager fashion, she chose to share her experience with the world the best way she knew how – via social media.

Thorne documented every step of her colonoscopy experience on Snapchat. From chugging her GoLytely laxative solution the day before her procedure to dancing and rapping in a hospital bed outside the exam room, Thorne’s followers got a front row seat to the colonoscopy experience.

While Thorne has remained mum on the reason for her procedure, she’s succeeded in creating a buzz about a very critical topic – colon cancer in young adults.

Colon cancer rates have been steadily declining in individuals over the age of 50, but researchers have noticed a stark increase in colon cancer diagnoses among younger individuals. A 2015 study published in JAMA Surgery looked at data from more than 393,000 individuals diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1975 and 2010. Based on current trends, researchers predicted that by the year 2030 colon cancer rates would increase by 90 percent and rectal cancer rates by 124.2 percent among individuals aged 20 to 34. Among individuals aged 35 to 40, incidence rates are expected to increase 27.7 percent for colon cancer and 46 percent for rectal cancer.

“The increasing incidence of colorectal cancer among young adults is concerning and highlights the need to investigate potential causes and external influences such as lack of screening and behavioral factors,” said the study authors (Source: American Cancer Society).

Current screening guidelines recommend that adults of average risk begin colon cancer screening at age 50. (African Americans should begin screening at age 45 due to an increased risk of colon cancer.) It remains to be seen whether the recommended screening age will be lowered to prevent young onset colon cancer. However, there are several preventive steps that younger individuals can take to reduce their risk of colon cancer.

Know your family history

An estimated 5 to 10 percent of colon cancers occur as a direct result of heredity, which means it is crucial to understand your family health history. If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with a history of colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, you should begin screening at least 10 years prior to the youngest family incidence. For example, if your father was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 40, you should begin screening by age 30.

Recognize the signs

Colon cancer often has no symptoms in its earliest, most treatable stages. However, there are some red flags that should prompt you to seek medical attention. These include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Change in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea or incontinence)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue

If you experience any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. While it’s likely that these symptoms are not caused by colon cancer, it’s always best to be sure.

Take preventive steps

Colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancers, and you can greatly reduce your risk by making healthy lifestyle changes. Exercise regularly, eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, and maintain a healthy weight. Limit your alcohol intake, and don’t smoke or use tobacco products. Talk to your doctor about any health concerns or worrisome symptoms, and ask about the best age to begin colon cancer screening.

Colon cancer may be on the rise among younger individuals, but there is plenty we can do to reverse this trend. If you’re under the age of 50, take preventive steps to lower your disease risk and talk to your friends about the importance of healthy lifestyle habits. If you are over 50, set a good example for the younger generation by staying current with your colon cancer screenings. Together we decrease colon cancer rates for people of all ages.


Related articles:

Colon Cancer on the Rise in Adults Under 50

Ask an Expert: Should Colorectal Screening Begin Before Age 50?

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