18 march 2015 heal 682x408

HEAL

Five reasons Gen X-ers should care about colon cancer

Any illness that has to do with bowel habits is bound to be tough to talk about, even with your doctor. But don't let embarrassment jeopardize your health, especially when it comes to colon cancer. It's true that colon cancer usually affects people older than 50—but it's not unheard of for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. If you're under 50, here's why you shouldn't ignore colon cancer as a potential concern. 

  1. Even though the colon cancer rate is falling for people over age 50, it is increasing for people under age 50. We aren't entirely sure why, but obesity, diet and thinking that colon cancer only affects older people may have something to do with it.

    Regular screening is reducing the colon cancer rate in older age groups. This is because screening can find precancerous polyps, and these can be removed so they don't go on to become cancer. But screening is not routinely recommended for people under 50. That's why it's so important to know your family history and discuss any symptoms with your doctor.

  2. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you could be at higher risk for colon cancer, too. You may need to start being screened at a much younger age or more often than people at average risk. Talk to your doctor if you have:
    • a first-degree or second-degree relative (such as a parent, brother, sister, grandparent, niece or nephew) diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age 50
    • several relatives on the same side of the family who have had the disease at any age
    • a first-degree relative who has had 10 or more polyps removed, even without a cancer diagnosis
    • a personal history of polyps

  3. Sometimes a family history of colon cancer means you are at risk for several other types of cancer. Here's an example: About 2-3 percent of colon cancers are caused by Lynch syndrome. With Lynch syndrome, we see gene mutations that can lead to an increased risk of colon cancer as well as uterine, ovarian, stomach and other cancers. At the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, we screen every colon cancer tumor for evidence of Lynch syndrome. If the test is positive, further evaluation can determine if Lynch is involved. Then we can help the entire family with decisions about cancer screening and prevention. We'll often recommend a visit with a genetic counselor in a situation like this.

  4. It is easy to miss symptoms of colon cancerNo matter what your age, don't ignore symptoms like blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss or a persistent change in bowel habits.

  5. A healthy lifestyle may help you avoid colon cancer. Eat a whole food diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, calcium-rich foods and adequate amounts of vitamin D. Also get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight. But don't wait until you are 50—start young and maintain good health habits for the long haul.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

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