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Colon cancer is omnipresent among older populations who carry certain genetic mutations. Evidence, however, suggests the disease is occurring in younger people today due to several trends on the rise. As the digestive tract becomes compromised by a tumour, two red flags may be increasingly difficult to ignore.
Recent findings published in the journal of the American Cancer Society suggest that the demographic of colon cancer cases has shifted since 1995.
Data suggest that one in five cases diagnosed today affects people aged younger than 55, compared to one in 10 cases before the turn of the century.
There are no clear explanations for these trends, though several potential reasons have been put forward by experts.
Researchers at Yale Medicine have pointed to a sedentary lifestyle, rising trends in smoking and heavy alcohol intake and probable causes.
Diet is also central to the development of colon cancer, as processed foods, sugar and salt have all been identified as culprits in the formation of tumours.
Fortunately, the diffusion of diagnostic tools like colonoscopies has helped curb rates of advanced diseases by enabling early detection of precancerous lesions.
With younger adults now falling victim to colon cancer, however, the recommended age to begin screening in the US has shifted from 50 down to 45.
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Dion Morton, Professor of Surgery at the University of Birmingham, said: “Colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer worldwide and accounts for 10 percent of cancer deaths worldwide.
“Whilst treatment can cure half of the affected patients, many older and frailer patients still die from the disease.”
Anyone who spots unusual bodily changes is therefore advised to come forward for testing.
The warning signs
Two major red flags commonly reported by colon cancer patients are rectal bleeding and an unexpected iron deficiency.
According to a 2020 report in the journal Nutrition Reviews, colorectal cancer is commonly associated with the development of iron deficiency.
The report states that the condition is present in approximately 60 percent of patients with the disease.
Several causative factors may exist, including blood loss, reduced iron absorption, and declines in biologically available iron.
It’s important to note that the blood loss responsible for a low red blood cell count may also alter the appearance of stool.
Tumours inside the colon often bleed into the digestive tract, causing stool to look darker than normal.
Bright red blood in the stool should also ring alarm bells, however, as this may signal a tumour lower in the digestive tract.
Finally, persistent changes in bowel habits, including diarrhoea and constipation, equally warrant a visit to your doctor.
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