In an alarming trend, the rate of colon cancer has spiked among young American adults, according to a new study. Colorectal cancer is the No. 2 killer among cancers in the United States, affecting men and women equally.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. The reality is the incidence of colon cancer by age group jumps at age 50, the recommended time people should begin screening. Anyone with a family history of polyps or colon cancer can undergo an exam at an earlier age.
“As far as the increase in colon cancer in young people, that is very disturbing,” said Maurice Cerulli, MD, a gastroenterologist at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. Knowing the symptoms is key, he said. Doctors and patients should become aware of the warning signs of colon cancer: Blood in the stool, a change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss or anemia.
American Cancer Society researchers discovered a doubling in the colon cancer rate – and a rectal cancer spike four times greater – between those born around 1990 compared to their 1950 counterparts, a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found.
The good news is that getting a colonoscopy – which traditionally entails inserting a colonoscope (a long, flexible, lighted tube) through the rectum to examine the colon – has never been easier. The procedure is quick, painless and can be performed once every 10 years.
“We have very strong data associating the development of polyps, which lead to colon cancer,” said Dr. Cerulli. “We have proven that removing polyps by colonoscopy prevents colon cancer before it starts and reduces deaths from colon cancer.”
Colonoscopy preparation has become much simpler. Many gastroenterologists, Dr. Cerulli included, allow their patients to eat vanilla ice cream and plain yogurt the day before the procedure. Other options are available, such as yearly stool analysis tests, which look for DNA changes or blood in the stool, or flexible sigmoidoscopy procedure using a short tube inserted into the rectum in a doctor’s office to look at the lower third of the colon.
“Screening saves lives. It’s very simple,” said David E. Rivadeneira, MD, director of colon and rectal surgery at Huntington Hospital. “Screening for colon cancer has demonstrated a significant impact by decreasing the amount of colon cancer because we’re seeing a significant decrease in colon cancer incidents as well as deaths. Screening captures the precursor of cancer, which is polyps.”
Take a free online health risk assessment test to see if you are a good candidate for colon cancer screening. Then call 844-772-8720 to make an appointment at a Northwell Health location in New York City, Westchester or Long Island.
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