Sunday, April 21, 2024

Colon cancer: No longer an elderly disease!

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At what age can one possibly get colon cancer? If the answer is 50’s or 60’s, then you are mistaken. Colorectal cancer, commonly known as colon cancer, has been increasing in young adults. According to studies, young adults aged between 31- 40 are at more risk than individuals above the age of 50. Colon cancer affects the colon; the large intestine or the rectum. Changes in lifestyle, environmental conditions, and food habits are usually the common culprits that lead to colon cancer.
The rise in colon cancer among young adults is influenced by various factors, prompting the need for comprehensive research. Of the factors- habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have been identified as contributors of growth of cancer cells in the intestine. Other factors like lack of exercise and physical activities which lead to obesity and fat deposits near the stomach can also lead to this deadly disease. Dietary habits also play a vital role. Frequent consumption of food like red meat and processed food with high levels of sugar increases the risk of colon cancer. Having chronic constipation or diarrhoea can cause damage to the lining of the colon as the colon has an increased exposure to stool for a longer duration causing colon cancer. Environmental factors like pollution could be a leading cause as well, as noticeable in the atmosphere. The young adults have been exposed to more harmful chemicals than the older generation. Genetic factors also play a role as individuals could get it due to family history.
The symptoms can vary from one individual to another, but there is a chance that young adults do not necessarily experience typical symptoms indicating colon cancer posing a challenge. Some symptoms that can be found in young adults are abdominal pains that are concentrated more in the lower abdomen. Change in the bowel habits like constipation or diarrhoea that happened recently could be one of the major indicators as well. Sudden weight loss that was unintentional and didn’t result from a lifestyle change may also point to a possibility of colon cancer. Another symptom that shows up is anaemia which results in fatigue and weakness. Additionally, the presence of blood in stool is a symptom that shouldn’t be overlooked. Even the presence of blood in small amounts shouldn’t be taken lightly.
A colonoscopy is a recognised diagnostic method in which colon cancer can be detected. Biopsy is another option where the cell growth or tumours are tested to understand whether they are cancerous. Using Faecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT) or DNA tests of stool can be an initial screening option. These tests check for hidden blood in the stool or analyse stool for genetic abnormalities that might indicate colon cancer.
One of the primary concerns for young adults is the risk of delayed diagnosis of colon cancer. This is due to symptoms that may be dismissed or attributed to other causes due to the misconception that colon cancer primarily affects older individuals. As a result, young adults may not receive timely screening or diagnostic evaluations, leading to delays in detecting the disease. Additionally, symptoms of colon cancer can be nonspecific and easily overlooked, further contributing to delays in diagnosis among this age group.
Starting at a young age, individuals can engage in specific behaviors to decrease their susceptibility to colon cancer. If a healthy lifestyle is followed, there is an increased chance of not being at risk. Healthy and balanced diet rich in fibre and limiting the intake of red meat and processed food can ensure better health. Involving in physical activities like walking, exercising, or aerobics regularly can regulate better well-being and prevent you from diseases. Limiting alcohol intake and cutting down on smoking can not only help you prevent cancer but also limit the risk of inducing lifestyle diseases.
In essence, the rise in colon cancer incidents in young adults is a rising concern. The misconception that only the elderly demographic is affected is misunderstood and requires a re-evaluation. Understanding the factors, not overlooking the symptoms and timely identification is important from not allowing it to snowball into a severe stage.

(The author, Prof. Dr. Somashekhar S P, is the Chairman – Medical Advisory Board, Aster DM Healthcare – GCC and India.)

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