Many health-conscious Americans consider cancer to be an ailment that is, for the most part, confined to the later years of one's life. Most healthcare organizations only begin to recommend cancer screenings for men after age 40. Likewise, much of the conversation around women's cancer tends to focus on breast cancer.
Young adults often overlook the dangers of colorectal cancer, and yet there has been a sharp rise in cases of colon and rectal cancer over the past several decades. According to The New York Times, people born after 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer as compared to people born in 1950.
Stats like these make it more important than ever for doctors to speak with their younger patients about cancer screening.
The rise of colorectal cancer
Young adults tend to wait longer to get screened for cancer than older adults. That means that, when cancer is found in a younger person, it is often further progressed. At that point, the disease may be harder to treat.
NYT reported cancer experts are not entirely sure what's causing the rise of colorectal cancer in young adults, but they have a few guesses. Obesity and sedentary lifestyle choices may increase an individual's chances of getting cancer, as do habits such as excessive consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Inflammatory bowel disease and Type 2 diabetes may also increase the risk of cancer.
Colorectal cancer affects men and women. Young adults in their 20s and 30s should have some understanding of its warning signs.
Potential warning signs of cancer
Cancer is often difficult to diagnose, because early symptoms may mimic those of other ailments. Roswell Park Cancer Institute noted the following potential symptoms of cancer that young people should know:
- Unexplained tiredness and energy loss.
- Abnormal bruising and bleeding.
- Ongoing pain in one part of the body.
- Sudden loss of vision.
- Loss of appetite and unexpected weight loss.
- Moles that change color and shape.
- Lumps or swelling of the breasts, stomach, testicles, neck or elsewhere on the body.
Other types of cancers that may affect young adults
Colorectal cancer isn't the type that may affect young adults. The American Cancer Society highlighted these forms of cancer as posing a potential threat to young people:
- Leukemia: Cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Often presents as prolonged bone and joint pain.
- Thyroid cancer: May present as a lump on the neck and is often associated with difficulty breathing and swallowing.
- Testicular cancer: Men between 20 and 34 are at greatest risk for this type of cancer. May appear as a painless lump.
- Breast cancer: This type of cancer is rare before age 30, but could appear at any age. Lumps may be painless or cause extreme discomfort.
- Melanoma: Typically starts as a new spot on the skin. One of the most common cancers for people under 30.
- Lymphoma: Lymph nodes that remain swollen for long periods may be a sign of this type of cancer.
- Sarcoma: Soft-tissue sarcomas often affect the joints and connective tissue. Hard-tissue sarcomas develop around bones, most notably the pelvis, breastbone and ribs.
Physicians and nurses should talk with their younger patients about understanding the early warning signs of cancer. The sooner cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.