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Colorectal Cancer on the Rise in Young People: Should You Be Screened?

POSTED BY Dr. June Hsu, Colorectal Surgeon
August 31, 2020  
Actor Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death from colon cancer at age 43 is a reminder to know the risks and get screened. 

Getting a colonoscopy is something many people put off even thinking about until the gray hairs start to set in and the kids are well off to college. But recently, a sharp increase in the rise of colorectal cancer among young people has prompted the American Cancer Society to lower the recommended age for a colonoscopy, which allows physicians to view the inside of the lower digestive tract up close, from age 50 to 45.

The recent death of actor Chadwick Boseman, “Black Panther” to Marvel Universe fans, is a tragic reminder that colon cancer does not just strike the elderly. Cases of young-onset colorectal cancer, in people in their 40s, 30s and even some in their 20s, have increased by 51% since 1994, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Know the signs

Boseman’s death is re-energizing the must-needed conversation around the rise of colon cancer in young people. It’s not unusual for younger people to dismiss or misinterpret the clues as typical “stomach issues,” hemorrhoids and other less serious, and often more likely, conditions. The most common signs of colorectal cancer in younger patients include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Change in stool or bowel movements
  • Difficulty in bowel movements
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
It’s important to see a doctor if you notice any of these changes, so that you can be put on the best treatment path.

Be aware of the risks

Despite all of this, age still is the #1 risk factor for colorectal cancer. The second biggest factor is a history of colorectal polyps as determined by a previous colonoscopy – we know from historical data that polyps will turn into cancer over time. An increase in colonoscopies in the over 50 age group, and being able to spot these polyps and remove them before they turn into something worse, is one of the reasons the rates of colon cancer in people over 50 have actually gone down.

Everyone, no matter what your age, can lower your risk by eating a normal, balanced diet, lots of fiber and water to move food through the digestive system easily, and get plenty of exercise. Quitting smoking may reduce risk, as well.

But by far, colonoscopy is the gold standard in spotting and diagnosing an issue before it turns life-threatening. Stool DNA testing and bloodwork may indicate an abnormality, but it won’t tell you if you have a polyp or precancerous legion.

Knowing that colonoscopies can help prevent and eliminate polyps and cancers down the road should make scheduling the test a lot more bearable. With improvements in the procedure and the day-before prep involved, there’s no reason to put it off.

Dr. June HsuDr. June Hsu is a Colorectal Surgeon practicing at 170 Maple Avenue in White Plains. She sees patients for a wide range of diseases of the colon, rectum and anus, including fistulas, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, as well as cancers of the colon, rectum and anus. To make an appointment, please call 914-948-1000.

White Plains Hospital was recently awarded a three-year accreditation from the National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer. It is one of 16 hospitals in the country to be accredited for its commitment to excellence in the care of rectal cancer, and just one of two in New York.

Tags: cancer screening, colon cancer, find a colorectal surgeon near me
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