A disturbing article is headlining the health-related news this week: there is an alarming upward trend in the incidence of colorectal cancers in younger people.
According to Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society, the incidence of colorectal cancer in older adults continues to decline, but, “people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to the risk someone born in 1950 faced at a comparable age.” You can read the full article, “Colon and Rectal Cancers Rising in Young People,” online in the February 28 New York Times.
The article raises two big concerns for me—first, there is no clear explanation for this sharp increase in colorectal cancers in the young. Researchers believe that obesity, sedentary lifestyles and increased incidence of type 2 diabetes are partial explanations. The second concern is that young people are not routinely screened for colon cancer, so by the time their cancer becomes symptomatic and is diagnosed, it is more advanced and harder to treat.
March is colon cancer awareness month, so there is no better time than right now to emphasize the importance of colon cancer screening. Colon cancer is largely beatable if found early and can be prevented if precancerous polyps are removed on screening colonoscopy. Many people are not aware that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) covers the cost of routine, recommended health screening tests such as colonoscopy as part of the essential benefits package. Since we do not know how long the ACA will be with us, now is an excellent time to get screened.
Reducing risk of colorectal cancers is much the same as reducing risk for other types of cancer: a diet of fruits and vegetables, more fiber, less red meat and processed meat; not smoking; maintaining healthy weight, and getting plenty of exercise.
Fellow Generation-X’ers: it is our turn to get a colonoscopy. But we also need to talk to our Millennial children about their increased risk for colorectal cancers.