So we know the trends, but what can we do? Screening saves – we know this. But we also know that the recommended screening age for average-risk individuals is 50. Discussions of lowering the screening age for the average-risk population have begun. While that debate continues, here’s what we CAN do.
- Educate yourself and your family on the risks associated with colon cancer, and start early.
- Know your risk and seek medical attention accordingly. If you’re in the high-risk group or have a family history, you should be getting screened earlier than 50. Stay on top of this and have these conversations with your doctor.
- Be your own health advocate. If something seems off with your body and your doctor isn’t acting on it, get a second opinion – there’s no shame in that. Physician-related delays (e.g., missed symptoms, initial misdiagnosis) have been estimated to occur in 15-50% of young-onset colon cancer cases.
A Word from Dr. Andrew Kennedy, MD, FACRO
Dr. Andrew Kennedy is the Physician in Chief of Radiation Oncology and Director of Radiation Oncology Research at Sarah Cannon Research Institute. As an internationally-renowned radiation oncologist specializing in gastrointestinal cancers, he’s been the recipient of more than $1 million in research grants to further investigate cancer treatments. It’s safe to say: he knows his stuff about cancer. He sat down to answer some of your questions about young-onset colon cancer. Don’t miss what he has to say!
Primary Care Physicians: What Can You Do?
Primary care physicians (PCPs) have an important opportunity to improve detection of colon cancer in younger populations. Here’s how:
- Individualized colon cancer risk assessments: They’re essential in all adults, regardless of age! This paves the way for earlier targeted screenings, preventative surgeries and risk modifications and lifestyle changes (e.g., weight reduction, increased exercise, smoking cessation, etc.) AND starts conversations about colon cancer risk factors in average-risk younger populations, decreasing reluctance of screening once age 50 is reached. This is particularly important because colon cancer screening compliance in those 50-59 is considerably lowering than those age 60-69 and 70-79.
- Symptoms, Symptoms, Symptoms: PCPs may improve time of diagnosis, disease stage at diagnosis and outcome by quickly and thoroughly evaluating symptoms consistent with colon cancer, regardless of age. This evaluation in young adults will help ensure a potential diagnosis is not missed or delayed.
- Talk It Out: On average, young-onset patients may delay 6.2 months before seeking care. PCPs may not be able to directly influence young patient’s decisions to seek care when symptoms first appear, but talking about colon cancer risk factors and symptoms, the importance of screening and the value of early detection during routine visits may give a base knowledge and increase comfort levels with the topic, leading young folks to seek care earlier.