Most people are aware that, traditionally, doctors don’t begin regular screening for colon cancer until age 50. This has made sense in the past, as the median age for a colon cancer diagnosis for men is age 68 and women is 72, with a rectal cancer diagnosis median age being 63, for both men and women. But recently published research is showing a trend that’s shifting downward, with an increase in the rates of colorectal cancer in patients under age 50.

Who Is Being Diagnosed?

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance surveyed 1,535 colorectal cancer survivors, all of whom were diagnosed before turning 50, with over half of the respondents being between the ages of 40 and 49. The outcome of this study showed some unsettling facts. The majority of patients had to visit at least two doctors before receiving a proper diagnosis, with 82% of the patients having received a misdiagnosis initially. Perhaps the most alarming statistic was that 73% of the patients were diagnosed in the late stage of the disease, at either stage three or stage four. Not only were these patients young, most of them did not have any family history of colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, the research numbers project that by the year 2030, 1 in 10 colon cancer patients and 1 in 4 rectal cancer patients will be younger than 50. This trend has been on the rise since 1994, with a 51% increase in young onset colorectal cancer cases since that time.

What Should We Do With This Information?

One of the first things everyone should do is understand the risk factors and symptoms of the disease. Symptoms most commonly include a change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days, the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement that is not relieved after having one, blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, cramping and abdominal pain, weakness and fatigue, or unintended weight loss. You’re more prone to having colorectal cancer if you have a family history of the disease, if you are of certain ethnic or racial backgrounds, eat a low fiber and high fat diet that is also low in fruits and veggies, if you are overweight or obese, lead a sedentary lifestyle, or if you smoke or drink. The top three symptoms reported by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance study included blood in the stool, diarrhea or constipation, and persistent cramping.

What Testing Should Be Done?

A regular colonoscopy exam is the best tool in the fight against colorectal cancer. Although the current recommendation is that regular colonoscopies begin at age 50, don’t let that be a determining factor in talking to your doctor. You should never assume anything about your condition just because of this type of recommendation. Since research is showing a steady downward shift in the affected age group, it’s important to monitor any symptoms, report them to your doctor, and discuss testing that you might need.

If you have any questions about colorectal cancer, are experiencing symptoms that you might be concerned about, or have a family history of the disease, make an appointment to see one of the doctors at Carolina Digestive Health Associates. Also, if you’re approaching 50, or if you’re already 50 and have yet to receive your first colonoscopy, make sure you book an appointment for that procedure as well. You very well might be saving your life.