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Colon cancer rates increase among young adults, study says

Posted March 7

March is colon cancer month, and the effort to raise awareness is highlighting a rising trend among young adults.

Colon cancer is appearing in a larger number of young adults than ever before. It's now the third leading type of cancer in the country with about 140,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

Generally, the risk for the cancer increases after the age of 50. A study published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, though, shows that although the overall rates of colon cancer are trending down, the rates for younger adults is headed up.

The study says the increase may be due to a tendency for young adults to delay having symptoms checked.

"What we're noticing about young patients, under the age of 50 that get colon cancer, is in general, there's an average six-month delay between when their symptoms started and when the diagnosis is made," said Dr. James Church from the Cleveland Clinic.

Church says colon cancer is caused by abnormal cell growth in the colon's lining, which takes time to accumulate. So, the older you are, the higher risk.

Current recommendations call for colonoscopy screenings starting at age 50. Only about 10 percent of patients with colon cancer are younger than 50.

It's because they are not being screened that Church says the cancer tends to be more advanced when it is caught.

In younger adults, colon cancer can be attributed to genetics or other risk factors, such as inflammatory bowel disease, crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

However - a growing number of adults are diagnosed for unknown reasons.

Reducing your risk means paying attention to bowel changes accompanied by rectal bleeding, which is a reason to see a doctor right away.

"Even if you're young, even if you're in your twenties and you have rectal bleeding, even if you think it's hemorrhoids, just don't trust that. Get it checked out," Church said.

Colon cancer is completely preventable. With a colonoscopy exam, polyps may be found that can be removed before they become cancerous, and cancers can be found early before they spread.

It's important to know your family history of colon cancer, which may lead you to seek genetic testing.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and limited red meat.

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