Colon cancer is something that most young adults never think about. Even doctors rarely recommend that their patients get screened before the recommended age of 50. But now the American Cancer Society has announced new screening guidelines and recommends everyone be screened at age 45.

What Is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer affects the large intestine, the final part of the digestive tract. It begins as small groups of cells called polyps. Many polyps are benign and exist in the colon without any symptoms or signs. However, some of these polyps become cancerous over time. Prevention is the most effective method of eliminating colon cancer.

Why Has The Recommended Age For Screening Been Lowered?

Adults with an average risk of colon cancer have always been advised to get their first colon cancer screening at age 50. Only those with a higher risk for colon cancer were advised to begin screening earlier. After research has shown a significant rise in the number of younger adults developing colon cancer, the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended screening age to catch more cases in the early stages. A colonoscopy is one of the most effective screening tests available today. It allows doctors to find and remove polyps during the same procedure.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms?

Colon cancer most often occurs in older adults but it can occur much sooner. Signs and symptoms include changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, ongoing abdominal discomfort, and feeling as though the bowel doesn’t completely empty. Colon cancer can also cause weakness or fatigue as well as unexplained weight loss.

Don’t wait until you experience symptoms to undergo screening. Many people don’t have any symptoms during the early stages. When symptoms do exist, they vary in type and severity depending on the size and location of the cancer.

Symptoms don’t usually appear until colon cancer has progressed. Even then, they mimic those of other health conditions and often go undiagnosed. The more time the colon cancer has to progress, the less likely it is that treatment will be effective. Screening is the only way to detect the presence of polyps and prevent colon cancer from occurring.

Am I At Risk For Colon Cancer?

No one knows exactly what causes colon cancer or why more young adults are being diagnosed. There are some risk factors that adults of every age should be aware of including:

1. Age

Your risk of colon cancer increases as you get older. Colon cancer used to occur 90% of the time in those aged 50 and older. Now, that number applies to adults aged 45 and older.

2. Other Related Health Conditions

People with conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are at a greater risk. In addition to earlier colon cancer screening, their doctors usually recommend getting screened more frequently.

3. Family History

People who have family members with polyps or colorectal cancer are at a great risk of developing colon cancer. There are various inherited syndromes including HNPCC, which often leads to cancer in younger people. FAP is a rarer genetic disorder that leads to the development of thousands of polyps in the colon and rectum. Untreated FAP greatly increases a person’s risk of developing colon cancer before the age of 40.

4. Poor Diet

People who eat a diet that is low in fiber and high in fat are at a greater risk of developing colon cancer. So are those who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

5. Sedentary Lifestyle

A lack of physical exercise and being overweight or obese have been associated with a high risk of developing colon cancer.

6. Lifestyle Habits

Alcohol and tobacco use are other factors that put you at a greater risk of developing colon cancer.

Insurance companies still haven’t announced whether they will expand coverage to pay for colonoscopies at the age of 45. You will need to check with your insurance company to verify coverage.

If you have questions about colonoscopy or other colon cancer screening tests, contact GI Associates today. Our team of gastroenterologists will help you determine the best screening method for your age and your level of risk.

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