Youth no safeguard to threat of colorectal cancer

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. The agency’s estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the country this year are 104,270 new cases of colon cancer and 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer.

Tragically, there are projected to be nearly 53,000 deaths from this disease, the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

Thankfully, the rate of people being diagnosed with these cancers each year has dropped overall since the mid-1980s, mainly because more people are getting screened and changing their lifestyle-related risk factors. From 2013 to 2017, incidence rates dropped by about 1 percent each year.

This downward trend is mainly in the older age brackets, however, and incidence among younger adults has actually been rising. From 2012 through 2016, cases of colorectal cancer increased every year by 2 percent in people younger than 50 and 1 percent in people 50 to 64.

Symptoms of the disease can include blood in the stool; stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away; and weight loss without a known cause.

This month is a chance to bring greater attention to the disease and underscore the importance of early detection:

• If you’re age 45 or older, start getting screened. There are several different tests, so talk to your health care provider about which ones might be good options for you.

• If you have a strong family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, talk with your doctor about your risk. You might benefit from genetic counseling to review your family medical tree to see how likely it is that you have a family cancer syndrome.

• Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men. Staying at a healthy weight may help lower your risk.

• Being more active lowers one’s risk of colorectal cancer and polyps. Regular moderate to vigorous activity can lower the risk. Limiting your sitting and lying down time may also lower your risk. Increasing the amount and intensity of your physical activity may help reduce your risk.

• Diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and low in red and processed meats, are recommended. Many studies have found a link between red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) or processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meats) and increased colorectal cancer risk.

In his proclamation marking National Colorectal Awareness Month, President Joe Biden cited the loss of celebrated actor Chadwick Boseman to the disease.

“It served as a reminder that this disease disproportionately impacts communities of color — and is particularly fatal among Black Americans,” his proclamation read. “No matter your age, every American should take possible colorectal cancer symptoms seriously and bring them to the attention of your health care provider.”