Most people are aware that, traditionally, doctors don’t begin regular screening for colon cancer until age 50. This has made sense in the past, as the median age for a colon cancer diagnosis for men is age 68 and women is 72, with a rectal cancer diagnosis median age being 63, for both men and women. But recently published research is showing a trend that’s shifting downward, with an increase in the rates of colorectal cancer in patients under age 50.

Who Is Being Diagnosed?

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance surveyed 1,535 colorectal cancer survivors, all of whom were diagnosed before turning 50, with over half of the respondents being between the ages of 40 and 49. The outcome of this study showed some unsettling facts. The majority of patients had to visit at least two doctors before receiving a proper diagnosis, with 82% of the patients having received a misdiagnosis initially. Perhaps the most alarming statistic was that 73% of the patients were diagnosed in the late stage of the disease, at either stage three or stage four. Not only were these patients young, most of them did not have any family history of colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, the research numbers project that by the year 2030, 1 in 10 colon cancer patients and 1 in 4 rectal cancer patients will be younger than 50. This trend has been on the rise since 1994, with a 51% increase in young onset colorectal cancer cases since that time.

What Should We Do With This Information?

One of the first things everyone should do is understand the risk factors and symptoms of the disease. Symptoms most commonly include a change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days, the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement that is not relieved after having one, blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, cramping and abdominal pain, weakness and fatigue, or unintended weight loss. You’re more prone to having colorectal cancer if you have a family history of the disease, if you are of certain ethnic or racial backgrounds, eat a low fiber and high fat diet that is also low in fruits and veggies, if you are overweight or obese, lead a sedentary lifestyle, or if you smoke or drink. The top three symptoms reported by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance study included blood in the stool, diarrhea or constipation, and persistent cramping.

What Testing Should Be Done?

A regular colonoscopy exam is the best tool in the fight against colorectal cancer. Although the current recommendation is that regular colonoscopies begin at age 50, don’t let that be a determining factor in talking to your doctor. You should never assume anything about your condition just because of this type of recommendation. Since research is showing a steady downward shift in the affected age group, it’s important to monitor any symptoms, report them to your doctor, and discuss testing that you might need.

If you have any questions about colorectal cancer, are experiencing symptoms that you might be concerned about, or have a family history of the disease, make an appointment to see one of the doctors at Carolina Digestive Health Associates. Also, if you’re approaching 50, or if you’re already 50 and have yet to receive your first colonoscopy, make sure you book an appointment for that procedure as well. You very well might be saving your life.

Your digestive system is one of the most vital systems in your body. If something goes wrong, it is also one of the most disruptive. You have felt the pain of an upset stomach, the discomfort of an unwanted bowel movement, but what if these feelings are constant? What if nausea and diarrhea settle in like a family member? You know the one. The crazy uncle that stays way past his welcome. That’s what IBD may feel like.

If part of your digestive tract becomes chronically inflamed, you may be suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is the headliner for two gastrointestinal diseases that unfortunately, never go away. Those two diseases? Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The more you understand what you’re up against, the easier it will be to prevent your unwanted guest from getting too comfortable.

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease can occur when any part of the GI tract is inflamed from the mouth to the rectum, although it is most commonly found at the base of the small intestine. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be progressive over time. Most people are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease before the age of 20, but it can occur at any age. Symptoms include:

  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Fatigue

It is possible to experience seasons of remission where you show no symptoms. However, Crohn’s disease is a lifelong disorder with currently no cure. But don’t let that discourage you. Treatment is completely possible to help reduce the pain and severity of your symptoms and even put the disease into remission. If you, or someone you care for, are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact one of our doctors so that we can put together a treatment plan that is right for you. Usually, medication can help ease your pain and discomfort.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is another form of inflammatory bowel disease that is contained in the large intestine or colon. In this case, the tissue lining of the large intestine becomes so inflamed that ulcers form. This is usually caused due to an abnormality in the immune system and while the symptoms can be treated, there is no cure for UC. The symptoms of ulcerative colitis are similar to that of Crohn’s disease:

  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal pain and bleeding
  • An urgency to defecate, even if you are unable to
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss

Symptoms of UC can range from mild to severe and may change over time. People who have been diagnosed with UC have also experienced seasons of remission.

Causes And Risk Factors Of IBD

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have unknown causes. Doctors are certain that while stress or certain foods may trigger symptoms of IBD, they are not causes. You cannot get IBD from something you ate. Many doctors believe that IBD is a genetic issue. Inherited genes may make you more susceptible to either Crohn’s or UC, so let your doctor know if you have a family history of IBD. While most people diagnosed are the first ones in their family to suffer from this disease, if a blood relative has IBD, there is a 20% chance that you are more likely to be diagnosed. Another risk factor includes your environment. Viruses and bacteria in the environment may be a danger to your body. You are also at a higher risk for IBD if you are white or of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

These risk factors are not meant to scare you, but make you aware. Inflammatory bowel disease can be painful and embarrassing to live with, but treatment for your symptoms is available. If you experience any of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or have a family history of IBD, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors at Asheville Gastroenterology Associates. We are committed to finding the best treatment plan for you to keep your symptoms at bay and prevent them from progressing.