While researchers work to understand why more young people are being diagnosed with cancer, screening remains an effective tool to ensure that the disease is caught early.
“One of the preventive measures that we push for is screening, such as mammography to screen for breast cancer, colonoscopy for colorectal cancer or a low-dose computed tomography scan for lung cancer,” says Dr. Gabre. “More people are getting screened, especially for colorectal cancer, which is helping to bend the curve downwards for mortality because we are catching cancers or precancerous colon lesions earlier.”
Colonoscopies can help prevent colorectal cancer, and the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people begin screening for this type of cancer starting at age 45. But for younger patients, Dr. Gabre says, “we are not screening them, which means that we are not catching these cancers earlier.”
Screening people earlier than 45 is usually determined by risk factors, such as family or personal history of cancer or other medical history. For patients who have a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer, such as a parent, screening is recommended 10 years before the age their relative was diagnosed or at age 40, whichever comes first.
Since findings have shown that there is also a rise in patients without risk factors, Dr. Gabre recommends people pay attention to their bodies and advocate for themselves with their health care providers.
“Until we have a better understanding of the rise in early onset colon cancer, patients and providers must act quicker to evaluate and rule out the causes of gastrointestinal symptoms, including unexplained abdominal pain, blood in the stool, change in bowel habits like new constipation or unexplained diarrhea and if necessary, refer patients to a gastroenterologist or other appropriate specialist.”