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Millennials are getting colon cancer. Why?

Millennials are getting colon cancer. Why?


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While you can’t control your genes, you can take care of your body. And if you’re a millennial, that now includes getting screened earlier for colorectal cancer — when you turn 45, not 50.

In its new guideline, the American Cancer Society recommends that colorectal cancer screenings start at age 45. Why? Because mortality rates for colon cancer among younger adults has been increasing since the mid-2000s, according to a study by American Cancer Society researchers. It’s now double for people born in 1990. Further, rectal cancer risk has quadrupled among the younger age group in comparison to those born around 1950.

This is the first time since 1997 that the screening guidelines have changed. The new guideline update aims to save more young lives by finding colorectal cancer early or preventing it from happening at all.

“Colorectal cancer typically has no symptoms until the disease has progressed and is much more difficult to treat," said Dr. Michael Baumann, chief medical officer, MountainStar Healthcare. “If caught early, it has a 90 percent survival rate. That’s why it’s so critical for adults to get over any qualms they may have about preventive screenings — and millennials to start getting them earlier.”

Why are colorectal cancer rates escalating among people born during the years of 1981 to 1996? Several studies suggest that an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity are the likely culprits. Others found that high levels of insulin associated with obesity interfere with cells’ ability to control regulatory genes at the DNA level. This disruption is being linked to cancer in colon cells.

Prevention until you turn 45

So you millennials out there, you may only be in your 20s and 30s, but it’s time to pay attention to your eating habits and how much physical activity you’re getting every day. It may be hard to believe, but 70 percent of colon cancer cases can be avoided with diet and lifestyle changes. Being physically active and eating right has proven to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer by 40 to 50 percent.

Here are some specific steps you can take to lower your risk of colon cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stay active and exercise regularly.
  • Eat less red meat (beef, lamb and pork) and processed meats (hot dogs and some lunch meats).
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains (fiber).
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages; no more than two drinks daily for men and one for women.

What are my risks?

Men have a 1 in 21 chance of developing colorectal cancer; women, a 1 in 23 chance. Having a family history (first-degree relative) of colon cancer increases the risk by up to 20 percent. So, if one of your parents or siblings was diagnosed with this disease or has a history of polyps, make sure to ask your doctor when to start your screenings. Typically, the recommendation is 10 years younger than the age of the family member at diagnosis or at age 40, whichever comes first.

Screening options

Colorectal screenings can help doctors find the polyps that are often precursors of colon cancer. Here are the most common types:

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT): The stool is tested for blood. Should be done every year, if choosing this as an alternative to colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: A flexible tube is inserted to check the rectum and last part of the colon. Should be done every five years.
  • Colonoscopy: A flexible tube is inserted into the colon and rectum. If polyps are found, they are normally removed and tested. Should be done every 10 years.
Unfortunately, many people put off the screening process for fear that it will be uncomfortable and lengthy. Don’t be one of those people! Once you’ve finished prepping, the actual procedure is short and usually painless. If you’re a typical “advice-seeking” millennial, this article tackles 30 myths about the prep, the screening and the cancer.

If it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy, click here for a list of our specialists. To schedule your preventive colorectal screening call 801-715-4152

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