Researchers have seen an unsettling new trend: Colon cancer is striking people at younger ages. As a result, the American Cancer Society recently updated its guidelines for colon and rectal cancer prevention, now advising that all people begin routine screening at 45. Previous guidelines recommended that people begin screening at 50.
Colon and rectal cancers are the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, and they’re the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. People with a family history, those who’ve had colon or rectal polyps, and those of African or Alaskan Native descent are at higher risk. Others include people with chronic inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, and those who’ve undergone radiation for other abdominal cancers. These people should seek screening even earlier than most.
Researchers at the American Cancer Society believe over 140,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer this year. Among people younger than 55, studies have shown a 51% increase in these cancers over the last decade, with an increased mortality rate of 11%.
A Western lifestyle appears to be the biggest factor in these changes. Among related risk factors are obesity, sedentary behavior, alcohol and cigarette use, high consumption of red meat and processed foods, and low intake of fruits, vegetables, and other sources of dietary fiber. Environmental factors could also play a role. In all, 50.8% of women and 58.2% of men who currently develop colon or rectal cancers do so because of unhealthy lifestyle choices.
More Screening Options
While new recommendations might have you seeing a doctor earlier than planned, screening options have improved. Colonoscopies can cost thousands of dollars, but take-home fecal tests cost around $30. The type of test you will need will be dependent upon your personal risk factors.
Start Prevention Now
Released last week, a different report published jointly by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Researcher listed recommendations to reduce cancer risks. The report suggests you can reduce your cancer risk by about 50% by getting physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in fiber and whole grains, and cutting out unhealthy habits.