While most people think colon cancer is just a diagnosis for older adults, the rates have been rising for younger adults.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN
The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that colon cancer, after skin malignancies, is the third most prevalent cancer diagnosed in the United States. Last year alone, the ACS reported that 104,270 Americans were diagnosed with colon cancer.
While it’s true that colon cancer typically affects older adults, it can happen at any age. Statistically, the rates of colon cancer have been increasing in younger people, with a 2% per year increase among people under 50. There was also a drop in the colon cancer survival rate among younger adults.
Hence, healthcare professionals strongly advise regular colorectal cancer screenings for those aged 45 to 75.
Watch today’s episode, This Is Getting Old: Moving Towards An Age-Friendly World, where we’ll look at colon cancer’s signs and symptoms, causes, and prevention measures.
Key points covered in this episode:
✔️ What is Colorectal (Colon) Cancer?
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the colon (large intestine)—the last part of your digestive system. This type of cancer is sometimes called colorectal cancer, which is a term that combines the colon and the rectum, but cancer begins in the rectum. The disease typically starts as a small, non-cancerous or benign polyp—a clump of cells forming inside the colon. But over time, these polyps can become colon cancers.
✔️ Symptoms and Early Warning Signs of Colon Cancer
So you should see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms,
- If you have a persistent change in your bowel habits
- A change in the consistency of your stool
- Rectal bleeding, or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort (gas cramps or pain)
- A feeling that you’re bowel isn’t emptying all the way.
- Experiencing weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
✔️ Even Black Panther Didn’t Escape Colon Cancer
You may remember Chadwick Boseman, who played the role of the superhero Black Panther. He died at age 43 of colon cancer. While most people think colon cancer is just a diagnosis for older adults, the rates of colorectal cancer have been falling for older adults but are rising for younger adults.
✔️Did You Know That Race And Ethnicity Have Something To Do With Colon Cancer?
African-Americans are 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer, but they’re also 40% less likely to die from it than any other racial group. If you are an African-American and in a high-risk category, please talk to your health care provider because they may recommend starting your colon cancer screening earlier—even as early as your thirties.
✔️Is Colon Cancer Hereditary?
1 out of 3 people who get colorectal cancer have a family member who have also had the disease or polyps. Having a first-degree relative’s (parent, sibling, or child) history of colorectal cancer does increase your risk. If any of your blood relatives has had colon cancer, you’re at greater risk, so you should start screening earlier.
✔️The Role of Diet in Colorectal Cancer Incidence
It is believed that the typical low-fiber, high-fat Western diet increases your chances of colon cancer, but research studies have had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meats. This is why France has now called for a ban on the nitrate additive for ham and charcuterie.
✔️ The Link Between Alcohol, Smoking, and Colon Cancer
Smoking tobacco has been linked to all types of cancers for a long time, including colon cancer. While it is known that moderate to heavy alcohol drinking increases your risk, even light to moderate alcohol intake has been associated with some risk increase.
✔️ When and How Often Should You Get a Colonoscopy?
Colon cancer screening can be a stool-based test (visual exam) done in your doctor’s office annually, but the gold standard screening is the colonoscopy. This test is crucial because you may not have any symptoms of colon cancer, but if polyps are found during the colonoscopy, they can be removed before they turn into cancer.
✔️ 45 is the new 50
For an average-risk person, you should start screening at age 45 and continue every ten years as long as you’re in good health and have a life expectancy of more than ten years. You should get colonoscopies until you’re at least 75 years old. Then from 75 to 85, you can decide if you want to be screened based on your overall health, life expectancy, and prior screening history. When you reach the age of 85, screening is no longer recommended.
✔️How To Avoid Colon Cancer?
- Move It!
Not being active increases your risk. So you’ve got to move it—10,000 steps a day should be your goal.
- Maintain Healthy Weight
Being overweight also increases your risk. A healthy BMI is a BMI of less than 25. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, but over 30 is considered obese. So make sure we keep our weight where it needs to be. Use this tool to calculate your BMI.
- Stop Smoking
It’s never too late to quit smoking so talk to your health care provider about ways to quit.
- Drink Alcohol in Moderation
For ladies, this means one drink a day; and for men, you get two.
- Stick to a Plant-based Diet
Foods that come from their original wrapper are the types of foods that you want to eat. You can never go wrong with including a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts in your diet.
If you have questions, comments, or need help, please feel free to drop a one-minute audio or video clip and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will get back to you by recording an answer to your question.
More Resources About Memory And Alzheimer’s Disease …
This Is Getting Old has several other episodes about memory and Alzheimer’s. You can check them out below:
- EP: 65 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part I: Symptoms of Early- and Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 66 – What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease? Part II: Symptoms of Late- and End-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease
- EP: 64 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Living Alone: Four Signs Someone May Not Be Safe at Home Alone
- EP: 63 – Alzheimer’s Disease and Driving: Five Signs That It’s Time to Take the Keys
- EP 38: Ten Tips for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer.
I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (2011) ) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities.
Find out more about her work HERE.