A recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed a significant increase in the number of colorectal cancer cases among people under age 50, with one-third of cases between 1973 and 2013 affecting people in the Generation X and millennial age groups. During that same period, rates dropped for people over 50, due in large part to more widespread screening.
Although this news may sound alarming, the risk of colorectal cancer among people under 50 is still quite low, and can be reduced by making good lifestyle choices.
How do I know if I am at higher risk?
First and foremost, it is important to know your family history. We know that having a family history of colon cancer increases your risk of developing colon cancer in the future. Have any of your first- or second-degree relatives been diagnosed with colon cancer? If so, at what age were they diagnosed? Are you a member of a family with a hereditary colon cancer syndrome such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis? Members of families with these syndromes have a very high risk of developing colon cancer.
A family history of large precancerous colon polyps also increases your colon cancer risk. Have any of your first-degree relatives had precancerous colon polyps? If so, at what age? Having this information available before you see your doctor is very helpful.
Although some colon cancers have a familial component, the majority of colon cancers are sporadic, and occur in people with no family history of colon cancer. The cause for these cancers is not as well-established. We know that diet and lifestyle factors affect a person’s risk of developing precancerous polyps and colon cancer. These risk factors include cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive consumption of processed meat, lack of fiber, sedentary lifestyle and obesity. In contrast to family history, these factors are potentially modifiable.
What should I do? Do I need to be screened?
The current recommended age to start colon cancer screening for a person at average risk for colon cancer is 50, except for those who have a family history as described above, where screening should start earlier.
Talk with your primary care doctor if you have any questions. These recommendations from the national gastrointestinal societies may change in the future, but as of now, these are the most effective recommendations.
Minimizing or eliminating known diet and lifestyle risk factors for colon cancer is the first step. Next, it is essential to pay attention to your body, specifically noting any significant change in your bowel habits or persistent rectal bleeding. Lastly, get insured. Having health insurance in case you do develop any concerning symptoms is vital in receiving timely and appropriate care.
Is there any benefit to colonics to flush out and keep the colon clean?
There is no data to support the use of colonics or colon hydrotherapy in reducing one’s risk for colon cancer. In fact, colonics are not without their own risks, and can potentially lead to dependence, bowel perforation or even serious infections of your digestive tract, among others. The known modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for colon cancer are described above. A diet high in fiber can keep the bowels moving regularly.
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