11 Call For Action Alert: What younger adults need to know about colorectal cancer

What you need to know about colorectal cancer.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 7:34 AM MDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 12:40 PM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - With March being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, 11 News is looking at the preventative measures people can take.

Colon cancer is one of the deadliest cancers -- but with early detection is also one of the most survivable. This is why regular screenings are so key.

One population experts are especially trying to reach are younger adults, defined as those under the age of 50. This is because while the vast majority of colon cancer cases are in older adults, over the past few decades there has been a significant uptick in cases among the under-50s.

11 News’ Katie Pelton sat down with Andrea Dwyer of the University of Colorado Cancer Center and the advocacy group Fight Colorectal Cancer to discuss what younger adults need to know to lessen their risk.

Katie Pelton: Colon cancer is such an issue. A new report shows cases are climbing among younger adults, and they are more severe when it’s detected.

Andrea Dwyer: “The American Cancer Society has released data that showed that unfortunately the trend that we’ve seen over the last five to 10 years about the number of younger cases being on the rise, that’s actually just becoming more severe. Actually, the number of people getting colorectal cancer when they are younger, the stage is even later stage disease, which is actually quite alarming and something that we’re trying to definitely address.”

Pelton: Cases have been rising for years. Do experts know why?

Dwyer: “We know that in the older group of folks, 50, older, that screening has definitely helped decrease colorectal cancer incidents, mortality. We saw the guideline move back from 50 to 45 years old, and that’s a huge change because of the number of young cases that have been detected.

“There’s some indication that we look at the foods that we eat, our activity and lifestyle, more sedentary can be part of that issue. But I think we’re starting to look at environmental factors in terms of how food is produced these days to understand if there’s anything that really might change what’s in the gut, what’s in the stomach that might be causing these changes.

“This is a huge area of study right now -- it’s something that the National Cancer Institutes, the University of Colorado Cancer Center, and several of the team members I work with, as well as myself and others internationally are really focusing on because unfortunately this ACS report just continued to elucidate that it’s not going away, so we’re really going to have to start looking at that causation, so screening at this point can only do so much.”

Pelton: Fight Colorectal Cancer is advocating for the [Cancer] Moonshot and White House to prioritize colon cancer.

Dwyer: “The Biden Administration has really put forth a movement with the Biden Moonshot Initiative -- and the Moonshot really it’s about a shot to the moon, it’s exciting, how can we help, really think about the reduction in cancer, about mortality, as colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths that’s on the radar.

“I’m going to Washington D.C. to help represent, particularly the underrepresented communities: rural communities, communities of color. Really talking about the role of ... access of care, talking about how we can really continue to make sure that there’s coverage for screening for those who are eligible, talking about risk factors, and what are we doing to really address the issues for people who have family history, making sure young people have resources for colonoscopies and follow up after signs and symptoms. But we’re also going to talk a little bit about around several different cancer types: breast, lung, colon and rectal. We’re starting to see more and more young people diagnosed, and we’re going to have to have a critical conversation about colorectal cancer, but also, what are we understanding, and what do we not know that we absolutely have to prioritize in order to take this Moonshot objective, which is the Biden Administration has put a lot of resources and energy.”

Pelton: Any advice on how folks can reduce their risk for colon cancer?

Dwyer: “First and foremost, if you are 45 years or older and you are at average risk -- meaning you don’t have a family member who has had colorectal cancer, that you yourself hasn’t had colorectal cancer or a genetic syndrome -- start talking to your health care team about screening by 45, so you can actually make sure you receive those benefits. Preventative cancer screening is paid for by most and all medical insurance plans, it’s part of the Preventative Care Act through the Affordable Care Act. That’s the first thing that people can do.

“Second, know your risks. If you had a family member who has had colorectal cancer, like Katie, your father-in-law, your husband and his family need to be talking about what their cancer risk means, they might need to start screening before age 45.

“For those folks who are 20, 30 and 40 years old, having tummyaches, strange bowel habits, anything like blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, colorectal cancer isn’t probably the first thing that people think of, but know your body. Know that these things can happen. Have an honest and open discussion with your health care provider. Advocate about knowing the signs and symptoms, being sure that if there is a recommended screen, that you do follow up.

“I also want to stress for the average-risk population, that there’s a variety of screening tests, colonoscopy is one way, where they are able to visualize the colon, really look at the polyps, these issues, but there’s stool-based testing too that can be simply at home annually. It’s shown to really reduce cancer mortality as well.

“I would just say if you’re 45 and older, have that discussion. If you’re younger than 45, know your risks, talk to your family, have conversations about cancer and overall health and prevention and wellness. And again, if your signs and symptoms are happening, no matter what age you are, even if you’re 20 or 30, it’s really time you bring that to your primary care provider ... talk to your family members or even trusted members of the community how to connect to health care.

“The American Cancer Society studies did show that we are seeing even more incidents ... of young adults that it’s late-stage disease, so we absolutely have to keep colon cancer symptoms on the radar.

More information on colorectal cancer symptoms, risky factor, preventative measures and more can be found by clicking here.