March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Cancers of the colon and/or rectum have long been associated with individuals over 50. While that age group still accounts for the majority of cases, they are declining thanks to increased disease awareness and preventative screenings. But diagnoses among adults in their 20s and 30s are on the rise, according to a recent study conducted by researchers with the American Cancer Society.
Since the mid-1980s, rates of colorectal cancers have increased by 2.4 percent every year for patients between 20 and 29 and by 1 percent each year for patients 30 to 39. As a result, those born around 1990 have double the risk of developing colon cancer and a quadruple risk of rectal cancer compared to people born in the 1950s.
While researchers have not yet determined the cause for this increase, it’s important for young people to know the symptoms of colorectal cancer and to see a medical professional if they are experiencing them. These symptoms include blood in your stool, change in bowel habits, cramps that don’t go away, a sensation that there is always something in your bowel, narrow stool and unexplained weight loss.
It’s important for you to know if colon cancer runs in your family, as that increases your risk for getting the disease. While you can’t control your genetics, you can control several behaviors that may increase your risk for colorectal cancer. These include:
• Physical inactivity
• Overweight and obesity
• Diet low in fruits and vegetables
• A low-fiber, high fat diet
• Heavy alcohol consumption (three or more drinks per day)
• Tobacco use
Research has shown obesity is a serious risk factor for colorectal cancer. It has also shown that physical activity can lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Strive to increase your physical activity if you are sedentary. Some recent studies also suggest that diets rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables may also help prevent the disease. Both diet and physical activity can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
More information related to health and nutrition topics is available through the Letcher County Extension Office.