For the longest time, the incidence of colon cancer — the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men and third among women in America — has been confined to older people.
Some 90 percent of all new cases of colon cancer occur in patients age 50 and older, and the average age of diagnosis has been age 72. Until now…
Research by the American Cancer Society has shown a steady uptick in colorectal cancer rates among young and middle-age adults including those in their early 50s, according to a recent report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
By the numbers
Based on a deeper look at the demographics, researchers discovered colon cancer rates had increased by as much as 1-2 percent per year from the mid 1980s to 2013 among adults ages 20-39.
The numbers are even more alarming for rectal cancer, with cases rising about 3 percent annually among adults ages 20-29 (1974-2013) and adults ages 30-39 (1980-2013).
“Our finding that colorectal cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s is very sobering,” said Dr. Rebecca Siegel of the American Cancer Society, according to a press release.
In fact, the trend toward younger colon cancer patients over the past two decades has closed a once wider gap in disease risks and patients in their early 50s compared to those in their late 50s, the study says.
Also, an increase of new cases among patients ranging in age from their 40s to early 50s in 2013 has prompted researchers to suggest starting colorectal cancer screenings for patients at average risk earlier than age 50.
(Due to higher incidences and lower survival rates, the American College of Gastroenterology published guidelines that recommend colon cancer screenings for African-Americans starting at age 45.)
5 ways to prevent colon cancer
No matter how gloomy the stats appear on the surface, the underlying good news here is that it’s pretty easy to reduce your risks of colon cancer if you’re willing to take some simple preventative steps.
- Get screened! There are an array of tests at your disposal, from a high-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) done annually to the flexible sigmoidoscopy (five years) and colonoscopy (10 years).
- Fight the obesity bug with exercise and a healthy diet. Obesity increases your odds of colon and rectal cancer by 30 percent, and higher BMIs elevate those cancer risks among men even more. Instead of trying and failing to conquer obesity with a home run punch, however, many scientists suggest a more measured, steadier approach. In fact, a 2016 study from Washington University concluded the greatest health benefits come from patients losing just 5 percent of their body weight.
- Take a supplement. If you’re taking a daily supplement for your good health, make sure it includes the right amount of vitamin D (1,000 IU) and calcium (1,000-1,200 mg), two proven colon cancer fighters.
- Reduce your contact with antibiotics and antibacterial soaps. Relying too often on antibiotics not only upsets the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. Exposure to a common antibiotic like penicillin can increase your risk for colon cancer by promoting a “pro-inflammatory environment” for up to a decade before a diagnosis. Plus, it’s time to give up antibacterial soaps, toothpastes and personal hygiene products that contain triclosan, an endocrine disruptor and antimicrobial compound linked to bacterial resistance.