Monday 20 March 2023

Colorectal cancer is rising among Gen X, Y & Z. Here are 5 ways to protect yourself

If you think you're too young to get colorectal cancer, consider this: About 20,000 people in the U.S. under the age of 50, will be diagnosed this year. And an estimated 3,750 young adults will dieColorectal cancer is rapidly shifting to diagnosis at a younger age," conclude the authors of an American Cancer Society report released this month. Since the mid-90s, cases among people under 50 have increased by about 50%. It's one of the deadliest cancers in this age group.

The moment that I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer scared me out of my mind," says Shawna Brown, a union organizer in Stockton, Calif. She was in her late 40s at the time and was completely shocked. "I had no signs or symptoms," she says.

Brown had received a screening test kit in the mail from her health care provider, but she didn't think it was urgent and frankly it grossed her out. The test required her to take a stool sample and send it back: "It didn't seem sanitary," Brown recalls thinking. "So I ignored the test." At the time many people were unaware that in 2018 the American Cancer Society had lowered the recommended age to begin screening from 50 down to 45 years old.

Eventually, during a routine medical appointment, Brown's nurse practitioner at Kaiser Permanente persuaded her to complete the screening, known as a FIT test, which can detect trace levels of blood in the stool. It came back positive, so Brown had a colonoscopy and doctors found a cancerous polyp. Then she had surgery to cut out a small part of her colon and fortunately the cancer had not spread beyond that.She's now an advocate for screening. "It definitely saved my life," Brown says. Two years later she remains cancer free.

Millennials and Gen Z, are at risk too. Diet may play a role

Statistically, people in their 20s and 30s are much less likely to get colorectal cancer compared to people 50 and older, but cases in this age group are rising. They're expected to increase by 90% by 2030 says, Dr. Kimmie Ng, who directs the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana Farber Cancer Center.

Ng says researchers are evaluating a range of factors that could be fueling the rise in colon cancer, everything from a lack of vitamin D, the complicated role of the microbiome, to the effect of high red meat consumption and the role of diet overall.

A study published in 2021 found that women who drank more than two sugary drinks per day had more than double the risk of early-onset colorectal cancer, compared to women who drank less than one drink. And a study published this month suggests people who eat lots of fresh and minimally processed foods are less likely to develop colon cancer, compared to people who consume lots of ultra-processed foods – including processed meats, sweets, carbonated soft drinks and ready-to-eat meals.

And a healthy diet likely plays a role in preventing recurrences among people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, a study published in 2019 found. Researchers tracked about 1,000 patients who had been treated for stage 3 colon cancer. They found people who consumed a lot of foods that can spike insulin, such as white bread, sugar-sweetened drinks, and processed snacks, were about twice as likely to have a recurrence or die from colon cancer, compared to those who consumed the least of these foods.

A wake-up call at 35

When Deondre Williams, of Covington, Ga., first saw blood in his stool, he figured he had hemorrhoids, so he put off seeing a doctor. At the time he felt fine and weighed 240 pounds. "I was solid," Williams says. "I thought I was healthy, because I worked out consistently."But at 35, he had colorectal cancer. After he was diagnosed, Williams had surgery and spent months recovering.


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