What Young Adults Need to Know About Colorectal Cancer

Dr. Megha Kothari
Gastroenterologist and Director of Women’s Health New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

Colorectal cancer is the third most prevalent and lethal cancer for both men and women in the United States. Most cases of colorectal cancer are found in people 50 and over. But there has been a sharp increase of colorectal cancer in adults as young as their 20s and 30s, with the proportion of cases found in adults under 50 increasing to 11 percent in 2013, up from 6 percent in 1990, according to the American Cancer Society.

“The myth that colon cancer is an old person’s disease must be dispelled, as the increasing rate of colorectal cancer among younger adults is now proven.” said Dr. Megha Kothari, gastroenterologist and director of Women’s Health at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, located in Park Slope. “Physicians and researchers are still working to figure out the root cause of this alarming increase, but what we do know for sure is that regular cancer screenings and healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way in lowering one’s risk.”

In honor of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, Dr. Kothari shared recommendations to encourage and educate individuals, especially younger adults and African Americans (who have heightened risk for colorectal cancer), to make their colon health a priority and practice healthier lifestyle habits.

Dr. Kothari advises:
Know the signs— Colon cancer often has no symptoms in its earliest stages. However, there are some red flags you can be on the lookout for, including, changes in bowel habits for more than a few days (constipation, diarrhea or incontinence), rectal bleeding, traces of blood in the stool, abdominal pain or cramping, weakness, fatigue, decreased appetite and unexplained weight loss. If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t ignore the signs, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Know the risks— Risk factors for colorectal cancer include age as well as lifestyle habits. A diet high in red meat and low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as obesity, tobacco, and heavy alcohol use, are all predisposed to developing the disease. A sedentary lifestyle as well as having inflammatory bowel disease may also put you at greater risk.

Know your family history—An estimated 5% to 10% percent of colon cancers occur as a direct result of heredity, which means it is crucial to understand your family health history. If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with a history of colon cancer or adenomatous polyps, you should begin screening at least 10 years prior to the youngest family incidence.

Take preventive steps—Colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancers. Exercise regularly, eat a lowfat, high-fiber diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, and maintain a healthy weight. Limit your alcohol intake, and do not smoke or use tobacco products. Talk openly with your doctor about any health concerns or worrisome digestive symptoms, and ask about the best age to begin colon cancer screening. Get screened— Colon cancer screening saves lives! Most people need to start their screening at age 45, or earlier if they have risk factors. There are different types of colorectal cancer screening tests available, in addition to a colonoscopy, there are stool based test that can be done at home.

For more information on colon cancer screenings, prevention and care at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital please visit: https://www.nyp.org/brooklyn/digestive-and-liver-disorders/colorectal-cancer/screening-and-prevention —Source: NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital