Overall, colorectal cancer rates are dropping. But in those younger than 55, they’re rising.
Colon and rectal cancers, often grouped under the term colorectal cancers, don’t get as much attention as breast cancer or skin cancer. But they have persistently remained a common risk for both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, they are the third most common cancer among both men and women if you remove skin cancers from the list. They are also the third leading cause of death among cancers.
When you look at colorectal cancer rates through the years, the trend is positive news. Overall, rates of this cancer are decreasing, likely because of improved and increased screening. Since 2007, rates in the U.S. have dropped 3.6 percent each year in people 55 and older.
More African-Americans have colorectal cancer than any other population group in the U.S.
During that same period (2007-2016), rates of colorectal cancer among those younger than 55 increased by two percent each year. This statistic becomes even more alarming when you consider that the best way to survive colorectal cancer is to catch it through screening and treat it early.
“It’s generally unexpected for young people (under age 50) to have this disease,” says Laurence Russell Sands, M.D., a professor of surgery and a colorectal surgery specialist at the University of Miami Health System’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “By the time they are diagnosed, they typically have more advanced disease and may be incurable.”
Colorectal cancer rates vary among people of different racial backgrounds. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy says that more African-Americans have the disease than any other population group in the United States. “They also have higher rates of colorectal carcinogenesis prior to age 50, are more likely to die of colorectal cancer and are less likely to engage in colorectal cancer screening over age 50,” says Dr. Sands.
Screening is crucial in reversing the trend
"People do not need to die from colorectal cancer.”
People with colorectal cancer rarely experience symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramping, or others before the disease reaches more advanced stages. That’s why adhering to screening guidelines is the most important tool in detecting and successfully treating colorectal cancer.
According to the most recent recommendations provided by the American Cancer Society in 2018, everyone at average risk for colorectal cancer should begin regular screening starting at age 45. The options range from annual stool-based tests to more extensive sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy tests performed every 5 to 10 years.
Also, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends earlier screening for individuals with a potentially higher risk of colorectal cancer.
If you have a parent, sibling, or child diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of 60, screening is recommended beginning at age 40 or 10 years before the age of the relative when they received a diagnosis; whichever comes first.
“Patients should speak with their doctors about the proper screening guidelines for them,” says Dr. Sands. “Screening can save your life. It is such an easy test to do, and colorectal cancer is a preventable disease. People do not need to die from colorectal cancer.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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