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Age and Colon Cancer

It is easy to live under the assumption that being young means being healthy. However, we all know that illness and disease can occur at unexpected times and at any age. Colon cancer is no different. Age is a risk factor in colon cancer, but people of all ages are diagnosed with colon cancer every day.

Colon Cancer at Age 50 or Older

If you notice changes in your bowel habits or begin to experience symptoms of colon disease, make an appointment with your doctor.

Although any person of any age can be diagnosed with colon cancer, 90 percent of colon cancer is discovered in individuals aged 50 or older. Therefore, being over the age of 50 is considered a risk factor for colon cancer. Because of the increased awareness of colon cancer, colonoscopies and colon screenings are on the rise. The number of colon cancer-related deaths has been steadily falling over the last 20 years because screenings have been increasing. Colonoscopies allow doctors to find and remove polyps before they even develop into cancer. Colon cancer is 90 percent treatable when discovered in the early stages, and regular colonoscopies are essential for early detection and treatment.

Colon Cancer at Age 50 and Younger

While rates for colon cancer in adults 50 and over is declining, rates for colon cancer in adults younger than 50 years of age is increasing. You are never too young for colon cancer. Knowing your risk is the most important way that you can protect yourself. If you have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about when you should be screened. It is recommended that you have a colon screening before the age of 50 if you have a family history of colon cancer or advanced adenomas. Young-onset colon cancer is most common in the distal colon, the part of the colon right before the rectum, and often presents at an advanced stage.

Because of the increase in young-onset colon cancer, there have been discussions about lowering the screening age for average risk individuals. Currently, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force believes that there is insufficient evidence to support screening for people in the average risk category, but this may change in the future. Physician-related delays have been estimated to occur in 15 to 50 percent of young-onset cases because of missed symptoms or misdiagnosis.

Know Your Body, Know the Symptoms

No matter what your age, you know your body best. If you notice changes in your bowel habits or begin to experience symptoms of colon disease, make an appointment with your doctor. Be aware of the warning signs for colon disease so you can recognize them. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea, constipation or narrower than usual stools
  • A bowel that never feels empty
  • Blood in the stool (bright red or very dark)
  • Persistent cramps, gas, pain or bloating

Educate Yourself and Know Your Risk

The best decision that you can make is to educate yourself and your family about the risk of colon cancer and to know that you are never too young. Colon cancer is not bound by specific ages, so statistics only provide basic guidelines for conclusions and recommendations. Whatever your age, you can ask your doctor about an Individualized Colon Cancer Risk Assessment. This important tool helps your doctor target your appropriate age for baseline screening and opens up conversation about colon screenings. The more you converse with your doctor, the less reluctant you will be when the time comes to have your initial colonoscopy. It’s all about knowing what to expect.

Start the Conversation Today

Ongoing dialogue about colonoscopies and colon screenings is essential because there can be a great deal of uncertainty to getting a baseline colonoscopy. Research shows that compliance in getting a colonoscopy is considerably lower in the 50 to 59 age group than the 70 to 79 age group. Therefore, we need to educate ourselves and our family members about the benefits of regular colonoscopies and the basics of the preparation and the procedure. Who wouldn’t want to undergo a test for a disease that is highly curable if discovered early?

Talk to your doctor about when you should have your first colon screening. It could be one of the most important conversations you will ever have.