Millennials are being cautioned against a new threat to their health: Colorectal Cancer. Typically thought of as an “older persons disease”, this article explores and explains why physicians are re-writing the guidelines on when to begin screening for colon cancer.
The urgency comes after a revealing finding in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which shows rates of colon cancer among people ages 20 to 39 on the rise in both men and women. "In many ways, I thought they were healthier. They know better of how to take care of themselves. So, it's worrisome to think even still cancer is on the rise," says Nicola Thomas-Botwood, a parent. Doctors say it's explainable because millennials rarely get screened and genetic cancers occur more in the younger population. Obesity can also play a huge factor. However, there are telling signs to be on the lookout for.
"Blood in the stool. That's abnormal, but often that's due to hemorrhoids. However, certainly persistent unexplained bleeding would be number one," says Dr. Gregory FitzHarris, a colorectal surgeon at Sentara CarePlex. Doctors say there are ways that you can reduce your risk of getting the disease by changing up your daily routines like exercising daily and having a healthy diet filled with a lot of fiber. "Reducing red meat but increasing fruits and vegetables. Fiber is also good because it also promotes good bowel habits," says FitzHarris. Doctors, like FitzHarris, say it's always a good idea to be proactive and get checked out before any symptoms occur. According to a previous study, adults born in 1990 could have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age had they been born in 1950. Globally, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International.
How do we combat colon cancer in millennials?
We have to treat colon cancer in any age group the same way to be effective says Dr. Vivian Nwude, a gastroenterologist. It really all comes down to awareness and screening. If you see or feel changes in your body, you need to get screened. The Second Generation FIT® test is a great front-line screening test because it is reliable, accurate and affordable. It's also the only test you can purchase without a prescription - which you probably wouldn't get from your primary care physician anyway - because millennials don't meet age-related insurance guidelines. As a gastroenterologist, Second Generation FIT® is the only FIT test I recommend to referring physicians, and it’s great to see that it is available over-the-counter.
A 'surprising' racial divide.
The new study included data on colon and rectal cancer diagnoses and death reports for adults ages 20 to 54 in the United States from 1970 to 2014.
The mortality data came from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics, which tracks cause-specific mortality rates. After analyzing the data, the researchers found that colon and rectal cancer mortality rates among 20- to 54-year-olds declined overall from 1970 to 2004 but then increased by 1% annually from 2004 to 2014. In 2014, the total colorectal mortality rate in that age group was 4.3 people per 100,000.Additionally, "when we looked at the trend by race, the increase in death rates is confined to whites, and in blacks, we see a slight decline over the entire 45-year study period in death rates," Siegel said. "That's very surprising, because whites and blacks have similar patterns in the major risk factors for colorectal cancer, like obesity," she said. "A lot of people want to look to the natural culprit, obesity, but that probably isn't what's completely driving this increase in colorectal cancer.” It turns out that what's driving the increase in both colorectal cancer incidence and death rates remains a mystery, Siegel said.
So now what?
Charlie Balentine, managing partner at Pinnacle BioLabs, manufacturers of the novel Second Generation FIT® test, says that’s the problem with the medical system with respect to these new findings. “Just because the American Cancer Society recommends screening begin at age 45, that doesn’t mean your insurance will pay for it.” Worse than than, he continues, "The vast majority of insurance programs will not pay for a colon cancer screening test of any kind until age 50, unless the patient is high-risk. Second Generation FIT® is uniquely positioned as an alternative that is available without a prescription and seen as on par with colonoscopy in terms of outcomes.”