Nearly 90 percent of all colorectal cancers are diagnosed in .adults over
age 50. But a new study by the American Cancer Society reveals some surprising
statistics - colorectal cancer rates are dropping for people born before
1950 but are increasing among adults in their 20s and 30s. Diagnoses for
those under 50 now count for 11 percent of all cases.
"Yes, we are seeing not only cancer but polyps in younger patients
as well," says Dr. Young Lee of Cortland Regional Gastroenterology.
Polyps are growths on the inner surface of the colon and, while often
benign, they can become cancerous. "The reasons why we're seeing
more cases of colon and rectal cancers in those born in 1990 and after
is not defined as of now, but we believe that it's related to diet
and a lack of exercise," Lee says.
Dr. Lee says a low fat, high fiber diet, regular exercise, and weight control
are essential to keep the colon healthy. But with childhood obesity on
the rise, diets heavy in red meat and processed foods, and activity confined
primarily to video games and computers, he is not surprised by the American
Cancer Society study results.
In the past, doctors confronted with younger adults experiencing changes
in bowel habits, blood in the stool, constipation or diarrhea, bloating,
gas or cramps rarely called for a colonoscopy, instead opting to treat
for hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome. Now, "physicians are
getting more and more proactive;' Dr. Lee says. "They are aware
of the study and the information. If I am seeing a , younger patient that
has some significant changes in bowel habits - blood in the stool - I
am going to order a colonoscopy:'
Current American Cancer Society guidelines call for baseline colonoscopies
at age 50 for most adults, and age 45 for African Americans. There are
no immediate plans to change that, so Dr. Lee says that if you're
a young adult experiencing symptoms, "don't hesitate to contact
the doctor thinking that it will just go away;' he says. "I know
it's difficult for younger patients to discuss these things with a
doctor. But doctors appreciate it when patients want to talk with them,
to ask questions. Doctors like to see that patients are actively involved
in their health care.”
Making lifestyle changes is another way young adults can be proactive.
Dr. Lee recommends gradually increasing the amount of fresh fruits and
vegetables you eat that are high in fiber, such as broccoli, cauliflower,
and Brussel sprouts. Switch from white bread to whole grain and opt for
sweet potatoes rather than white. And don't forget to include some
form of physical exercise. Parents can lower the chances that their children
become tomorrow's young adult colon cancer statistic by changing the
entire family's lifestyle.
"Colon cancers just don't happen overnight. It takes a long time;'
says Dr. Lee. "And any lifestyle modification takes time. Everything
today is instant gratification. That just doesn't work with cancer