Colon cancer is the second most deadly form of cancer in the United States today. Younger patients are often unaware they should even be concerned about colon cancer until they’re in their 40s and 50s, but recent studies not only show a higher prevalence of colon cancer in younger people, with especially high rates of colon and other cancers in obese young people. Read on to learn about risk factors for colon cancer, when you should be screened, and how to help prevent this deadly disease.
Colon Cancer and Survival Rates
It very much matters what stage colon cancer is when it is diagnosed. A considerable problem with colon cancer is that it does not often cause noticeable symptoms until it is in its later stages, which can be especially concerning for younger patients who are not yet receiving regular screenings. Colon cancer screenings are paramount, as they can catch colon cancer in its earlier stages, which vastly improves survival rates. Because most patients under 45 are not yet receiving regular colonoscopies, it is imperative that they take preventative measures (such as diet and exercise) to help prevent colon cancer. If colon cancer is discovered:
- In Stage I, patients have an 80-95 percent chance of survival.
- In Stage II, patients have a 55-80 percent chance of survival.
- In Stage III, patients have a 40 percent chance of survival.
- In Stage IV or above, patients have a 10 percent (or less) chance of survival.
Learning About Risk Factors
Your colon health is something you should be aware of well before age 45, which is the recommended age to get your first colonoscopy (colon cancer screening). Knowing about the risk factors for colon cancer at any age can help prevent the disease. There is a strong correlation between obesity and colon cancer in younger patients; however, there is a connection between obesity and colon cancer in patients of all ages as well. Obesity (a body mass index above 30.0) is not only correlated with colon cancer but myriad other health problems, including other cancers, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. If you find yourself struggling to lose weight, or adhering to a diet, reach out to your physician. They are there to help you.
Other risk factors associated with the development of colon cancer include red and processed meat consumption (particularly in women), smoking cigarettes, and heavy alcohol consumption.
There are also risk factors that you cannot change, such as your genetics or family history. If you have a first-degree relative with colon cancer diagnosis, one who has a history of polyps, or one with a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), this is something your doctor should know. He or she may want you to have your first colonoscopy well before the recommended age of 45 because of your family history. Other genetic factors that offer a predisposition to colon cancer include being of African-American or Ashkenazi Jewish descent or having a history of an inherited syndrome, such as Lynch syndrome. Inform your physician if any of these factors apply to you. You may need to be tested for Lynch syndrome if your family tree is littered with colon cancer patients. If multiple blood relatives have had colon cancer, genetic testing may be necessary.
Making Lifestyle Changes
Making better decisions when it comes to your health can have a significant impact on whether you develop polyps or colon cancer in your lifetime. It is strongly advised that patients keep their BMI under 30.0 (under 25.0 is optimal), and eat a healthy diet full of protein, whole grains, and leafy grains. Being sedentary has also been linked to colon cancer. In fact, a recent study found a correlation between binge-watching television episodes and the development of early-onset colon cancer in women. Exercise (at least 40 minutes per session, several times a week) is highly recommended to keep colon cancer at bay. Other suggestions for lifestyle changes include:
- Quit smoking. Ask your physician if you are trying to quit and need more help.
- Drink only in moderation or not at all. Heavy alcohol consumption has been directly linked to colon cancer development.
- Limit red and processed meat consumption or eliminate it entirely. Choose healthier protein options, such as chicken, pork, or fish.
- Get regular screenings. If you are 45 and over, schedule your colonoscopy when your physician recommends it. If you are under 45, be in regular touch with your GI doctor, letting them know of any changes in bowel or digestion habits. Check with your insurance, most coverages begin at age 50 despite the American Cancer Society change in recommendations.
If you need more information about the risk factors for colon cancer or would like to schedule your first screening, book an appointment with Carolina Digestive Health Associates today. Not only can our eight office locations offer you convenience with appointment setting, but we can also provide many healthy and successful weight loss solutions if you’re struggling to lose weight and keep it off.