Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death behind only lung cancer. Since the 1990s the rate of colorectal cancer in adults under the age of 50 has steadily risen. This significant increase is perplexing since the rate of colorectal cancer has decreased in older adults due to regular colonoscopies and a lower rate of smoking.
Other countries such as Canada, Australia, parts of Asia and Europe have seen the same trend. Epidemiologists say this generational change in occurrence is likely environmental as opposed to genetic. Although the etiology of this change has not been identified, our experts point towards unhealthy diets (diet is high in fat and low in fiber), being overweight, inactivity and environmental chemicals as the leading suspects. All of these can lead to changes in our gut bacteria, called the microbiome, which in turn can increase inflammation in our gut. Increased inflammation can cause mutations in the DNA of our gut mucosa, and that increases the likelihood of developing colon cancer.
Early diagnosis and prevention of colorectal cancer hinges on more frequent testing and being informed. Primary care providers need to be proactive and recommend lifestyle changes such as:
• increasing the amount of fiber in your diet (at least 5 servings of fruits and/or vegetables daily – a serving is roughly 1/4 of a cup
• increasing your daily exercise
• losing that extra weight
• stopping smoking.
Numerous medical organizations are now recommending a screening colonoscopy at the age of 45 as opposed to the previous recommendation of 50. Additionally, if you have symptoms such as blood in the stool, abdominal pain, changes in your bowel habits, unexpected weight loss or narrow stools please see your physician as soon as possible.
By: Robert Ripley, MD
General Surgeon, WCH