Colon and Colorectal Cancers on the Rise in U.S. Millennials

Colon and colorectal cancers are among the most commonly diagnosed cancers in both men and women in the United States. A recent study released by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows these cancers are especially on the rise in millennials and GenX. The study showed the risk for these cancers increasing by around 3 percent each year.

The study also concluded that adults born in 1990 have a two-fold higher risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer compared to adults born around 1950. Furthermore, the risk of rectal cancer is four times higher in the younger generation.

“The findings of this study are extremely alarming,” said Emil Lou, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and Masonic Cancer Center member, “they indicate a strong need to increase awareness among medical professionals that young adults can actually get colorectal cancer. We should not dismiss potential symptoms in young adults or just assume that the likelihood of colorectal cancers in this population is nonexistent or too low to consider.”

Lou also said that cancers of the colon and rectum are only about 5-10 percent hereditary, leaving the remaining 90-95 percent of cases potentially being caused by environmental causes as well as lifestyle choices.

In young adults ages 20-30, this rise may be due to some of the same factors that have contributed to the obesity epidemic, including:

  • Poor diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Excess weight
  • Low fiber consumption

“The Western diet contains a higher content of processed foods, which leads to increased rates of obesity and to a higher Body Mass Index, both of which are risk factors for incidence and worse prognosis of colorectal cancers,” said Lou.

So, what should young adults be watching for? Common symptoms for colon or colorectal cancers can include:

  • Bleeding in the stool, or stool that is abnormally dark and tar-like in consistency
  • Rectal pain
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Symptoms commonly mistaken for benign conditions, such as hemorrhoids

To lower risk for colon and colorectal cancers, try increasing the amount of fiber in your diet while decreasing your intake of processed foods and simple sugars. Make efforts to remain physically active by taking a 30 minute walk, 4-5 times a week. Limiting alcohol and avoiding use of tobacco products also lowers risk for colon cancers, as well as various other forms of cancer.

As with any medical concerns, if you have abnormal symptoms, or have an immediate family history of colon cancers, it is best to speak with your doctor.

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