Younger people are being diagnosed with colon cancer — know the signs.

You can play a critical role in decreasing the incidence and mortality of younger-onset colorectal cancer:

  • Be aware that colorectal cancer most often occurs in individuals who have no family history of the disease or apparent risk factors, and that it’s occurring with increasing frequency in individuals younger than age 50.
  • Alter your approach to evaluating and educating younger patients.
  • Obtain a patient’s detailed family history — well before the age of 50, if possible — to assess his or her colorectal cancer risk. Recommend an earlier screening for those who meet high-risk family or personal-history criteria.
  • Consider a team approach. Drawing on the expertise of physician assistants, nursing staff, and health educators may provide an effective way to educate young patients about colorectal cancer.

Facts about colorectal cancer diagnosis in younger people:

  • According to a University of Michigan study published online in the American Cancer Society’s journal Cancer in January 2016, one in seven people diagnosed with colon cancer is younger than 50, and some are as young as 20.
  • Initial misdiagnosis occurs in 15 to 50 percent of cases; therefore, it becomes important to take younger patients’ symptoms seriously to avoid a late-stage diagnosis.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, people born in 1990 now have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared with people born around 1950.

Characteristics of colorectal cancer diagnosis in younger people:

In 75 percent of cases, there is no family history or hereditary syndrome; however, some factors can indicate a greater risk:

  • A first-degree relative diagnosed with colorectal cancer
  • Two or more distant relatives diagnosed with colorectal cancer
  • Relatives diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a young age
  • Lynch syndrome, endometrial cancer, and various other types of aggressive cancers
  • Additional risk factors:
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • African-American heritage
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Consumption of too many sweetened beverages and not enough milk
    • Consumption of processed meats

Symptoms that could indicate colorectal cancer:

  • Unexplained rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Recent and persistent change in bowel habits
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Constantly feeling the need for a bowel movement

Talk to your younger patients about colorectal cancer, and if symptoms or hereditary factors indicate a risk, refer them to a nurse navigator to schedule a colorectal cancer screening.

Click here for cancer screening and treatment programs your patients should know about that can help them pay for screenings if they’re uninsured or underinsured, get cancer treatment if they can’t afford it, or get help navigating through cancer services.

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