It’s that time of year again—Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Over the years, we’ve talked about the prevalence of colon cancer among adults over 50, as well as how diabetes, race, polyps, and other genetic factors can increase the risk of colon cancer. But now, it’s time to talk about a startling new demographic at risk—millennials.
New research has shown that the millennial generation—people born between 1978 and 1997—are at greater risk for both colon and rectal cancer than the preceding generations. Since the mid-1990s, colon cancer rates have increased by 1-2.4% every year. Rectal cancer prevalence among 20-39-year-olds has increased 3.2% per year from 1980 to 2013. In 2015, 10% of colorectal cancer patients were under the age of 50.
But there is good news. Colon cancer is not only treatable but preventable with early detection.
People who are at an elevated risk for colon cancer should be screened regularly, so that it can be caught even if it isn't yet causing symptoms. Early screening can also detect polyps that have the potential to become cancerous later on.
Three main tests can be used to screen for colorectal cancer in millennials:
The strongest tool for early detection of cancer and also allows the doctor to look at the inside of the entire colon. Even if you have no other risk factors, a colonoscopy should be performed every 10 years starting at age 50. Most insurance companies cover this as a wellness/ preventive program, without any copay or deductible.
If you have any concerns about getting a colonoscopy, such as pain during the procedure or drinking the prep, then you have not been keeping up with the latest developments. If your doctor thinks it is appropriate for you, a smaller prep is better tolerated and a colonoscopy is a sedated, completely pain-free procedure, as anyone who has done it will tell you.
Although some other tests (as below) may be able detect blood in the stool or polyps, they are not as good as a colonoscopy in diagnosing polyps or cancer and you will still need a colonoscopy if a polyp or blood in the stool is found in any other way.
Fecal Immunochemical Test
This colon cancer screening test looks for signs of cancer in three consecutive stool samples, which you can collect at home. This test should be performed annually starting at age 50—or earlier, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or exhibit other risk factors for colon cancer. This is not a 100% guaranteed test in diagnosing all cases with polyps or cancer, nor does it rule out any abnormalities when it is negative.
This screening test allows doctors to view the inside of your rectum and the nearest part of your colon, the sigmoid colon. It should be performed every 5 years starting at age 50. This does not help to examine the right side of the colon where more polyps may be found, and you need to prep and have sedation for this procedure as well.
The only difference is how much of the colon will be examined, so it has not been an ideal test for colon cancer screening.
Patients at an elevated risk of colon cancer—even those under the age of 40—should be screened more frequently. If you have inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colon cancer, or a personal history of polyps, your doctor may recommend that you start getting screened earlier, and get screened more frequently.
There is no reason to panic because of the numbers. You need to ask your doctor if you need colon cancer screening- anyone 50 years and above, or anyone with a family history of colon cancer or polyps, or at any age, if you have symptoms such as rectal bleeding or anemia, you may need to be tested.
There are many factors that contribute to the development of colon cancer. Doing what is good for your body—such as eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating less red meat and processed foods, exercising to avoid or reduce obesity, and having regular checkups with your doctor—is good for your colon as well. Genetics is just one risk factor, so instead of stressing about your family history or what you read online, take action to restore your peace of mind. Call and schedule a consultation today.
To schedule your colonoscopy in Baton Rouge today, please contact one of the doctors at Gastroenterology Associates by calling (225) 927-1190.