Colon Cancer Isn’t Just for Old People: A Notice to Gen Xers and Millennials
Recent headlines riveting the masses is not good news for the generations in the prime of their lives. New research is finding that generation X and millennials (people born in the ‘80s and ‘90s) have twice the risk of colon cancer compared to the baby boomer generation before them.
In February 2017, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study reviewing data spanning more than four decades finding that trends in colon cancer incidence rates are hitting the young adult population hard. The American Cancer Society reports that if these trends continue, it is predicted that by 2030 the incidence rates among people 20 to 34 years of age will increase by 90 percent for colon cancer and 124 percent for rectal cancer. Among people 35 to 49 years of age, incidence rates are expected to grow by 27 percent and 46 percent respectively.
Researchers and experts are scratching their heads at this phenomena. The incidence of colon cancer has steadily declined among the 50 and up population, much thanks to strong colon cancer awareness campaigns over the last ten years targeting that audience. So, why are so many young people suddenly being affected by this disease?
Dr. Kevin McNamara of Adult Gastroenterology Associates and a partner physician at Tulsa Endoscopy Center is one of the many physicians striving to grow awareness among young adults. He says that the evidence is very unclear as to why so many young people are being affected, but he has suspicions that the increase is more “random” than related to family history.
Dr. McNamara’s suspicions may actually be quite accurate. A March 2017 study published in the journal Science found that random mistakes in DNA—unrelated to lifestyle or heredity—actually account for nearly 60 percent of all cancer cases.
And that begs the question, if it is all random, is there anything this generation can do to mitigate their risk?
Dr. McNamara is quick to point out that when colon cancer is caught early, it is highly treatable. Research shows that patients who adhere to colon cancer screening guidelines have a 53 percent reduced risk of mortality from colon cancer. This means that millennials and gen Xers have to be diligent about their own health, living a healthy lifestyle, watching for early warning signs, and talking to their doctors when things don’t seem quite right.
“Any changes in bowel habits, including the presence of blood in stools should be communicated to [your primary care physician],” says Dr. McNamara. “There are lifestyle risk factors too. Obesity may be a contributing factor. The WHO recommends that people avoid [consuming] smoked and processed meats on a regular basis, as this may be a risk factor as well.”
If you do have symptoms or are concerned that you may be at risk, a gastroenterologist, like Dr. McNamara and his colleagues at Adult Gastroenterology Associates can help you with diagnosis and comprehensive treatment plans. “At AGA (and TEC), we strive to establish a diagnosis as early as possible. If a patient is diagnosed, then all referral coordination, ancillary testing (CT scans, labs, etc.) is coordinated through our office in an expedited manner, including follow-up colonoscopies.”
As it turns out, you can never be too young for colon cancer. The expert digestive health care teams at Tulsa Endoscopy Center and Adult Gastroenterology Associates strive to deliver the highest level of care to each and every patient. If you have concerns about your GI health, don’t wait, call 918-528-4221 or go online to schedule an appointment today.