Colorectal cancer — it’s the third most common form of cancer among men and women in the United States, but it doesn’t get talked about nearly enough, especially by younger people.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that, in 2021, there will be nearly 150,000 new cases of colorectal cancer. And despite this cancer being found predominantly among people over the age of 50, the risk of this type of cancer for younger Americans has never been greater. Here’s why it’s so important for people of every age to take notice of colorectal cancer.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is defined as any type of cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. Colon and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they share many of the same characteristics.
Most colorectal cancers start as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum, called polyps. Over the course of several years, these polyps can change into cancerous growths, but this isn’t always the case, and not all polyps lead to cancer.
For colorectal cancer that forms in a polyp, it grows into the wall of the colon or rectum, beginning in the innermost layer of this tissue. Over time, this cancer can grow through other layers, and, eventually, it can grow into blood vessels or lymph vessels that then allows the cancer cells to travel to other places in the body.
The stage of colorectal cancer is usually defined by how far into the wall of the colon or rectum the cancer has grown. As with any cancer, colorectal cancer found in a later stage is often more difficult to treat and potentially more deadly. Overall, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in America, and the ACS estimates that it will lead to just under 53,000 deaths during 2021.
Who’s at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?
Any person at any age can get colorectal cancer, but your risk generally increases as you get older, especially after the age of 50. There’s no way to prevent cancer completely, but there are some things you can do to lower your level of risk or, at the very least, give you a better chance of spotting cancer early if the risk factors can’t be controlled.
Here are just a few of the risk factors you can control:
- Being overweight or obese
- Not being physically active
- Having a diet that’s high in red and/or processed meats
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
And here are some of the risk factors you can’t control:
- Being over the age of 50
- Having a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
- Family history and inherited genetic predispositions
Click here to learn more about the specifics of colorectal cancer’s risk factors.
Why Should Adults in Their 20s and 30s Be Worried About It?
As we’ve previously mentioned, colorectal cancer is most commonly found among people over the age of 50, but that doesn’t mean younger adults are in the clear. In fact, the risk of colorectal cancer for people in their 20s and 30s is greater than ever.
From 2013 to 2017, overall colorectal cancer rates dropped by about one percent each year, but this is largely the result of lower rates among older people. Among younger people, however, incident rates have continued to rise among people between the ages of 20 and 39 since the mid-1990s.
It’s not entirely clear why these trends have occurred. One likely cause is the increased frequency of screenings among older Americans, which has helped prevent colorectal cancer because polyps can be found and removed early. Obesity rates among younger adults have also been considered as a contributing factor for these trends.
The stigma surrounding this form of cancer and the pervasive belief that it’s something that only affects older adults may also be leading to these higher incident rates. That’s why it’s so important to learn the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer and talk with your doctor right away if you experience any of them.
Regardless of the cause or causes, colorectal cancer is a topic that younger adults can no longer afford to ignore. From 2008 to 2017, colorectal cancer death rates decreased for people over the age of 50. For people under 50, however, the death rate during that time period actually rose by 1.3 percent.
How to Manage Risk Factors
One of the best ways to keep tabs on your overall health and wellness is to communicate regularly with your primary care doctor. He or she can be an invaluable resource for everything from managing your risk of developing cancer to recommending specialists for further examination should it be necessary. Don’t have a primary care doctor? Visit our website to learn more about UM Charles Regional Medical Group – Primary Care, which is now accepting new patients in Charles County.
To learn more about colorectal cancer, its causes, risk factors, symptoms, treatment options, and more, visit the official website of the American Cancer Society, or talk to your doctor today.