The average age of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States is 72, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. In fact, the risk factor for the disease, also known as colon cancer, rises after age 50. That’s why 50 has long been the recommended age to get a colonoscopy, which is THE screening test for colorectal cancer.
But that may be changing. After looking at recent data, researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that the rates of this type of cancer were rising in younger adults: One in seven people who are diagnosed with the disease are under the age of 50.
Doctors are unsure of why this is so, just that the evidence is clear. So they ask people under 50 to be aware of the warning signs. If you have a change in bowel movements–you’re suddenly constipated or have diarrhea that lasts a few days; your stool is narrower than usual (again for a few days); you feel as if you always have to go, yet when you do, you don’t feel relieved; blood in the stool (usually dark); anemia. If you notice any of the above, bring it to your doctor’s attention.
Most of these signs occur when the cancer has spread, which is why younger people have more aggressive cases when they are diagnosed. But these folks are treated more aggressively, too, which is why the survival rate is higher for those under 50.
Doctors aren’t urging a change in the screening age yet, but they do urge people under 50 to get a colonoscopy if colon cancer runs in their family. And because lifestyle affects this type of cancer, try to eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains and be more physically active.