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Colorectal cancer on the rise among people under 55


Colorectal cancer on the rise among people under 55

First, the bad news: More adults under age 55 are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
A recent report from the American Cancer Society showed that in 2019, people ages 54 and younger accounted for one in five cases of colorectal cancer. In 1995, they accounted for one in 10.
“We’re not really sure exactly why that is,” says Erica Kouns, a certified family nurse practitioner who provides care at Tidelands Health Gastroenterology at Murrells Inlet. “There’s not a single factor that seems to be playing into it.”
Although experts are still seeking to better understand the causes of the trend, Kouns and other experts believe that lifestyle factors such as increased obesity rates, diets high in processed foods, a lack of physical activity, nicotine consumption and increased alcohol consumption are likely contributing factors.
Here’s the good news: Colon cancer can be prevented in the majority of cases through colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colon cancer detection and prevention in the U.S.

A life-saving screening

During a colonoscopy, patients are sedated while a specially trained physician inserts a thin, fiberoptic instrument with a tiny camera through the anus to allow a doctor to examine the lining of the colon and check for inflammation and precancerous polyps. It is the best colorectal screening test available. Other approaches, such as stool tests, are not as accurate as colonoscopy.

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“Colon cancer starts as a colon polyp. During a colonoscopy, colon polyps are removed,” Kouns says. “When a polyp is removed, the risk that the polyp will ever turn into colon cancer is eliminated. This is why a colonoscopy can truly save your life.”

When to begin screening

Screening colonoscopies should begin for average-risk Americans at the age of 45. Depending on the findings, subsequent screening intervals will be recommended by your physician. Intervals of five or 10 years are common.
For people at increased risk for the disease, recommendations for when to begin colonoscopies and how often to have the screening may vary. If you have questions about your unique circumstance, speak to your health care provider.

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Sometimes patients don’t think they’re at risk for colorectal cancer because no one in their family has ever had the disease, Kouns says. But more than 80 percent of cases occur in someone without a family history of the illness. And colon cancer is often asymptomatic in the early stages. Colorectal cancer is now the second-leading cause of cancer death in the country.
According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms of colon cancer can include:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
  • Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

Although these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, it’s important to seek prompt medical care to determine the cause.
“Our goal is to prevent colorectal cancer from ever happening to a person,” Kouns says. “Colonoscopy is the absolute best way to help prevent the disease.”

Schedule a colonoscopy today

At Tidelands Health, our region’s leading health care provider, there’s no need for a referral to schedule a screening colonoscopy. Simply call 1-866-TIDELANDS.

Erica Kouns is a family nurse practitioner who practices at Tidelands Health Gastroenterology. She is accepting new patients.

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