Q&A: Screening for colorectal cancer

Q: I just turned 30. Should I get screened for colorectal cancer?

A: Earlier this month, a study from the American Cancer Society found an increase in colon and rectal cancers among young adults in every generation since 1970. Researchers were not sure of the reason for the increase, but stated that more education among younger adults was clearly needed, to help reduce delays in diagnoses.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults over 50 get a routine screening with colonoscopy. However, there are some groups who would benefit from earlier screenings, such as those who have:

  • Known irritable bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • Inherited disorders, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome.
  • A first-degree relative diagnosed with colon cancer.

Those who have familial adenomatous polyposis should start colorectal cancer screenings as adolescents. Those with Lynch syndrome should start getting screened in their 30s. Irritable bowel disease does not have any clear screening guidelines, but during an appointment with a gastroenterologist, a patient will typically undergo a colonoscopy to help with IBD diagnosis.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, patients with first-degree relatives should start receiving colonoscopies at age 40, or 10 years younger than the earliest diagnosis in their family —whichever comes first.

Even if you aren’t part of these high-risk groups, you should be aware of these signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer:

  • Pain in the abdomen.
  • Bloody or dark stool.
  • Change in bowel habits that last for more than a few days.
  • Passing excessive amounts of gas.
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Unintended weight loss.
  • Feeling that you need to have a bowel movement after you’ve already done so.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms — regardless of your age — talk to your doctor immediately.

Erik Polan, DO, is an internal medicine physician at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.