Learn why early screening is crucial for prevention and treatment.
While colorectal cancer, called colon cancer, is often considered a disease that primarily affects older adults, recent studies suggest that more younger Americans are being diagnosed with the illness. Given that colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, this trend should be taken seriously.
In February, the American Cancer Society reported that 20% of colon cancer cases were among people 55 and younger — an increase from 1995 when 11% of cases occurred among this age group. Further research also shows the incidence of colon cancer in people younger than 50 has steadily increased in recent decades, as had the number of younger people dying from the disease.
Early detection is crucial when it comes to colon cancer, and screenings are a critical component of maintaining good health.
“Diagnosing colon cancer at an early stage is critical as the survival rate can be as high as 90%,” said Karl Kwok, MD, a gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. “Thanks to regular screenings and the technology available today, we can detect advanced precancerous polyps and, in many cases, remove them using techniques that won’t require surgery or hospital stays.”
Colon cancer usually starts in the colon or rectum from precancerous polyps or growths. The disease usually doesn’t cause symptoms until after it’s spread, so that’s why screening is essential. If detected early, precancerous polyps can be removed before they turn into cancer, or cancer can be caught at its earliest stages when it’s most treatable.
One type of screening for colorectal cancer — called a fecal immunochemical test, or FIT — can be done in the comfort and privacy of your home. Kaiser Permanente also recommends other screening options for people 45 and older, including a sigmoidoscopy every 5 years and colonoscopy every 10 years.
Some of the known risk factors for developing colon cancer include a sedentary lifestyle, a diet heavy in red and processed meats, smoking, heavy alcohol use, obesity, and a family history of colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease. African Americans have the highest incidence of colon cancer, and people with a history of kidney transplants or type 2 diabetes also have an increased risk.
By making regular screenings a part of your health care routine, you can catch colon cancer early and potentially avoid more invasive treatments.
Kaiser Permanente is a leader in colon cancer prevention. As March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it's an ideal time to learn more about it and take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. Spread awareness by sharing this story with friends and family.