45 and Living Healthy? Include a Colorectal Cancer Screening

2.1.2024

 

For years you have followed a checklist for a healthy lifestyle. Doctors would say you’re the picture of good health.

  • You eat the recommended daily allowance of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
  • You avoid eating too much red meat and sugary foods and drinks.
  • You complete 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week.
  • You maintain a healthy weight.
  • You don’t smoke or drink alcohol.

You’ve checked all the boxes, but did you know you may still be at risk for a preventable disease?

“You can have the healthiest, fiber-rich diet and still get colorectal cancer,” said George J. Chang, MD, in Healio.

If you’re 45 or older, include a CRC screening in your healthy lifestyle checklist. It could save your life.

Colorectal Cancer Cases Rising in Younger People

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates about 106,590 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer and about 46,220 with rectal cancer in 2024.

Colorectal cancer diagnosis in adults 40-49 has increased by nearly 15 percent in the past decade. About 18,000 people younger than 50 are diagnosed every year. That’s about 49 new cases of early-onset colorectal cancer per day.

Colorectal cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in men and the second-leading cause of cancer death in women younger than 50. This is according to new data released in mid-January by the ACS.

“In the late 1990s, colorectal cancer was the fourth leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in this age group,” according to the ACS.

“The continuous sharp increase in colorectal cancer in younger Americans is alarming,” said Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, ACS senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science, regarding the new data.

The reason for the increase in this disease among young adults is not clear. Experts speculate the cause could be changes in lifestyle habits that originated with individuals born around 1950.

“We need to halt and reverse this trend by increasing uptake of screening, including awareness of non-invasive stool tests with follow-up care, in people 45-49 years,” Dr. Jemal said.

Screenings Can Prevent CRC

Regular colon cancer screening is the most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer, even more so than diet or exercise.

Experts recommend colorectal cancer screening begin at age 45 for adults who are at average risk.

“Up to one-third of people diagnosed before 50 have a family history or genetic predisposition and should begin screening before age 45 years,” Dr. Jemal said.

Several colorectal cancer screening options are available. Colonoscopy is the only screening method that can detect and prevent colorectal cancer.

CRC almost always begins with a polyp, a small cluster of cells in the lining of the colon (large intestine) or rectum.

During a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist looks for polyps that are cancerous or may develop into cancer. Your doctor can remove any polyps in the same procedure.

Most insurance plans cover a colonoscopy for patients 45 and older. Call your health insurance company to confirm you are eligible for a screening colonoscopy.

If you choose to take a stool test and you receive a positive result, you will need a follow-up colonoscopy to determine the cause.

The five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent when CRC is found at an early stage, before it has spread to other organs.

Currently, there are more than one million colorectal cancer survivors in the U.S.

Don’t Ignore Symptoms, Regardless of Your Age

“Younger people often shy away from talking about their bowel functions and, therefore, can delay getting medical attention,” said Dr. Chang, a professor and chair ad interim in Texas.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, do not ignore them. Instead, consult your healthcare provider immediately.

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stool
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained anemia
  • Vomiting

“If they notice rectal bleeding, abdominal pain or change in bowel habits, these are clues that they should speak with their physician about the significance of these changes and should undergo colorectal cancer screening or at least a further workup of these symptoms,” said Seth A. Gross, MD, in Healio.

Regardless of your age, if you have digestive system symptoms, visit your doctor.

Many colorectal cancer cases have no symptoms or warning signs until the cancer has advanced. If you are 45 or older, getting screened is critical to detecting and even preventing colorectal cancer. If you need a doctor, we can help you find one near you. Our GI centers are located nationwide. Call today to make an appointment.