March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness. Below, Edward J. Jakubs, MD, surgeon with Lexington Surgery, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, answers questions about the rise in the disease among younger adults.
Q: Tell us what doctors are seeing with colon cancer in younger adults.
A: For several years, we’ve seen colon cancer increasing in frequency among younger individuals and more advanced stages of disease at the time of diagnosis. That’s why the recommendations for colon screening have been lowered to age 45 for all individuals at average risk in an effort to identify colon cancer earlier or to prevent colon cancer by removing precancerous polyps.
Q: To what do we attribute the increase?
A: It’s not entirely clear, but there are many environmental factors that may play a role. The best way to prevent colon cancer is to live a healthy lifestyle: avoid tobacco products and excessive alcohol consumption, eat a healthy, high-fiber diet, and have a colonoscopy at the appropriate age. Additionally, seek evaluation for any early symptoms such as rectal bleeding and a change in bowel habits regardless of age.
Q: We hear a lot about the poor American diet. How may that be contributing to the higher incidence?
A: One should use common sense. We know what nutritionists and all doctors recommend, but often do not follow these guidelines. A healthy, high-fiber diet and plenty of non-caffeinated fluids to maintain regular bowel function is essential.
Q: What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
A: Symptoms may occur, but they’re usually later in the course of colon cancer. They might include changes in bowel habits, blood associated with the stool, abdominal pain, unexplained anemia, or unexplained weight loss. More important, however, is preventing colon cancer by removing polyps through routine screening colonoscopy or identifying early cancers before symptoms occur. It’s also important to know your family history.
Q: What happens during a colonoscopy and why should it not make people – especially young people – nervous?
A: The prep needed is not as difficult as in the past and sedation is used so there no pain during the procedure. Colonoscopy is a routine procedure and when done by experienced physicians has very few complications. One day of inconvenience for most people every five to 10 years is essential to PREVENT colon cancers. Colonoscopy should not be feared, but colon cancer should be.
Edward J. Jakubs, MD, Lexington Surgery