Q&A: Colorectal Cancer Is on the Rise Among People Under 50
Discover easy ways to reduce your risk.
Dr. Jerald Wishner, MD, FACS
Q: Why are more younger people developing colorectal cancer?
A: While 90 percent of colorectal cancer is still found in patients over 50, since 2000, the incidence of this cancer in people in their 30s and 40s is increasing by an average of two percent a year. While the data doesn’t yet indicate rock-solid causes, it strongly points to certain trends – dietary and behavioral — in our American way of life. There is an absolute correlation between colorectal cancer and obesity. A meat-heavy diet high in fats is believed to be another risk factor. So is lack of physical exercise. As part of the general rise in obesity over the past 20 to 30 years, more young people are heavy. And obese people tend not to exercise much. Meanwhile, a sedentary lifestyle and a diet high in fat are becoming the norm for all age groups.
Not only are younger people developing colorectal cancer in record numbers, they are seeking help late. Because they’re typically not getting screened, 85 percent of people under 50 see the doctor only after developing symptoms, when the disease is at a more advanced stage. In 2018, the recommended age for starting to get colonoscopies was lowered from 50 to 45. (Colonoscopy screening makes colorectal cancer one of the most preventable cancers.)
Q: What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
A: It tends to have no early symptoms. Once the tumor is larger, if it’s blocking the end of your colon or your rectum, you can experience a crampy pain when passing stool, bloating, constipation, or the need to strain when eliminating. If the tumor is in the first part of your colon, you may feel tired, weak and lightheaded because the tumor is leaking blood.
Q: What are today’s best treatment options?
A: Virtually everyone requires some type of surgery to remove the tumor. If the cancer is only in the colon, you may require chemotherapy following surgery although many patients are treated with surgery only. If the tumor is in the rectum, you may need radiation treatments before surgery. If the cancer has spread, you may also need chemotherapy. State-of-the-art robotic surgical techniques available at Northern Westchester Hospital facilitate a more precise surgical procedure, improving outcomes.
Q: How can you lower your risk for colorectal cancer?
A: There is good evidence that eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains can reduce your risk, while red meat and processed meats likely increase your risk. Fiber is also very important. I start my day with a bowl of high-fiber cereal. People who exercise regularly, even if it’s just walking 30 minutes a day or being active three days a week, have a lower risk for colorectal cancer.
The care and safety of our community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is Northern Westchester Hospital’s top priority. We have put maximum safety measures in place to prevent exposure to the coronavirus for anyone who comes to the Hospital for emergent or scheduled care.
Dr. Jerald Wishner, MD, FACS
Director, Colorectal Surgery
Medical Director Colorectal Cancer Program
Northern Westchester Hospital
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