If you walked up to an average person on the street and asked what they thought common risk factors for colon or colorectal cancer might be, you’d likely get answers such as “old age” and “unhealthy diet.” While eating an unhealthy diet isn’t too far off, old age isn’t necessarily true anymore when it comes to colon cancer. More younger patients are being diagnosed, and many of those patients have also been struggling with obesity. Read on to learn about the risk factors for colon cancer you should be aware of, the correlation between younger patients, obesity, and cancer, and how you can help prevent colon cancer or catch it in its earliest stages.

More About Colon Cancer

Colon cancer and colorectal cancer can affect the colon, the rectum, or both, and the term used depends on the specific type of cancer and area affected. There are often no symptoms when it comes to the early stages of colon cancer, which is part of what can make the disease so deadly–it can go undetected for quite some time. If colon cancer is caught in its earlier stages, such as stage I or II, survival rates fall between 80-95 and 55-80 percent, respectively. Once colon cancer reaches stage III, survival rates drop to 40 percent, and stage IV takes a sharp drop to 10 percent. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States today. This makes a screening colonoscopy so very important–but generally speaking, younger patients aren’t thinking about colonoscopy too often.

Younger People and Colon Cancer

Prior to 2018, the recommended screening age for colon cancer in both men and women was age 50. As of May 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered its screening guidelines to age 45, indicating that everyone 45 and over should have their first colonoscopy. Check with your personal insurance policy as most don’t begin coverage until the age of 50. A colonoscopy is the gold standard for the early detection of colon cancer. This relatively easy and painless procedure can not only detect cancerous polyps that could develop into colon cancer, but it can also remove them. It is possible for patients in their 20s and 30s to receive a diagnosis, but this is before the age where regular screening is recommended. Therefore, it’s extremely important to pay attention to risk factors to aid in the prevention of colon cancer.

Being Aware of Risk Factors

Recent studies have shown a strong correlation between cases of colorectal cancer in younger patients and obesity. A patient is classified as being obese if their body mass index (BMI) is 30.0 or over. Over the past several years, there has been a spike in obesity-related cancers (including colon cancer) in the age 25 to 49 age group. Patients are advised to exercise regularly and eat a healthier diet. Patients who are struggling to lose weight should consult their physician for extra help to get their dietary habits back on track. Other risk factors that could contribute to colon cancer include:

  • A first-degree relative with a diagnosis of colon cancer or polyps
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Eating a diet high in red meat (especially for women)
  • Smoking
  • Heavy or alcoholic drinking

There are also specific genetic factors that contribute to colon cancer risk. African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews have a higher prevalence of colon cancer. However, most colon cancer risk factors can be eliminated by practicing better habits. Patients are advised to avoid red or processed meats, quit smoking, and only drink in moderation. Patients who have a first-degree relative with a colon cancer diagnosis should inform their doctor, as they have a higher risk and may need a first screening well before the age of 45. 

If you need more information regarding colon cancer, need help losing weight, or want to schedule a colon cancer screening, book an appointment with GI Associates today. We have three separate locations for your convenience and offer pediatric services, offering GI care for the entire family.

Your Health Matters

Let us partner with you in the thing that matters most - your health. Make an appointment today.