If you’re over 50 or have a family history of colon cancer, statistics now show there’s a good chance you are staying on top of screening for the disease by having regular colonoscopies. According to the CDC, nearly 69% of adults in those at-risk groups were up to date on colorectal cancer screenings in 2018.
However, those same statistics also mean that over 30% of adults are not getting these important tests – which adds up to 21.7 million Americans. The vast majority of them, about 80%, are in the age group at highest risk of colorectal cancer, between 50 and 64.
That’s why March has been designated as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: to emphasize that timely screenings are the best “medicine” to fight this disease, the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women. Not only can screening colonoscopies detect cancer in its earliest stages when it is most treatable, they also can help prevent colorectal cancer entirely, through removal of potentially dangerous polyps during the procedure.
Colonoscopies are generally recommended for those 50 and older, although the American Cancer Society updated its recommendation in 2018 to include other types of colorectal screenings beginning at age 45. That’s because, for reasons that are not clear, a growing number of colorectal cancers now occur in people under 50 – a figure that currently stands at over 10% of cases.
A 2018 report by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance also showed that, of the more than 1,600 young-onset colorectal cancer patients included in a study, over 40% had waited at least six months after experiencing symptoms before they visited a doctor. Consequently, 71% of those younger adults were diagnosed at stages 3 or 4 of the disease.
One of them is Kim Newcomer, manager of the alliance’s Never Too Young initiative, who was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer at age 35. She has emphasized that it’s critical for people not to ignore its signs, regardless of their age.
“The good news is, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer,” Newcomer has said. “If you notice any symptoms like blood in your stool, anemia, weight loss, abdominal pain, fatigue, changes in your digestion process or narrowing stool, book an appointment with your doc immediately – especially if you have a family history of the disease.”