The increase in cancer cases among younger individuals should be a compelling reason for people of all age groups to reconsider their lifestyles. Being vigilant about early signs of the disease, according to experts. A recent study found that there was a 79 percent rise in new cancer cases among those under 50 from 1990 to 2019. Furthermore, it projected a 31 percent increase in cancer cases among individuals under 50 by 2030, primarily affecting those aged 40 to 49
The Alarming Rise in Young Onset CRC
While CRC is most frequently diagnosed among those 65 to 74 years old, it is estimated that 13% of new CRC cases occur in people younger than 50 years old.
Additionally, CRC in those aged 40 to 49 years old increased by almost 15% from 2000-2002 to 2014-2016. In 2023, an estimated 19,550 people under 50 will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 3,750 will die from the disease.
The Urgent Need for Early Detection
“We are seeing younger people get diagnosed with colon cancer and starting screening earlier can allow us to impact this spike in the incidence of cancer in the younger population.
A Disproportionate Burden
The disease disproportionately affects different socioeconomic groups, races, and regions in the United States, with higher rates being observed in certain communities, such as Black and American Indian or Alaska Native communities.
Lack of Awareness and Education
Despite the increase in young onset CRC, awareness of the disease is still lagging. “Unless a person sees a healthcare provider on a regular basis, a 45-year-old is very likely limited in what they know and understand about CRC, the importance of screening, and the various options available, including a noninvasive test like Cologuard.”
The Role of Cologuard
Cologuard is a simple stool test that you collect at home and mail in to check for hidden blood and certain DNA changes indicative of colon cancer. However, if a person has a positive test, it’s essential to have a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy vs. Cologuard
Although a colonoscopy is more invasive and requires significant preparation to empty the colon the day before the procedure, it also prevents colon cancer by removing potentially cancerous polyps before they become cancerous.
The Bottom Line: Any Screening is Better than None
Although there are pros and cons with each test, any screening is better than no screening. The importance of screening comes down to the fact that CRC is the most preventable, yet least prevented cancer, Limburg stressed.
A Lifesaving Potential
It is estimated that nationwide implementation of an 80% CRC screening prevalence for all eligible adults could save tens of thousands of lives by preventing numerous cases and deaths.
“It’s very simple; we can prevent many colorectal cancers through regular screening… screening can identify cancers that are more easily treated, and even pre-cancers that can be removed to avoid a cancer diagnosis entirely,” said Limburg.
Why 45-Year-Olds Aren’t Getting Screened for Colorectal Cancer
In the United States, colorectal cancer (CRC) is a prevalent and potentially deadly disease. Early detection through regular screenings can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment. However, a surprising number of 45-year-olds are not getting screened for CRC. The data collected from 1,005 adults aged 45 years on March 6-14, 2023. Revealed several barriers that stand in the way of CRC screening for this age group.
Lack of Time and Life Responsibilities
The poll found that a staggering 77% of respondents in this age group are parents or legal guardians, while 79% work either full-time or part-time. Many are juggling a multitude of responsibilities that may take priority over their health. The demands of everyday life, including work, family, and household responsibilities, often leave little time for preventive health measures.
Dr. Swaminath, a medical expert, emphasizes the importance of prioritizing one’s health. She notes, “Like everything else, we are learning that we have to take care of ourselves to be here for the long term to look after our loved ones, enjoy life, and be productive in our fields.” She suggests blocking out time on the calendar for CRC screening as a proactive approach to overcoming this barrier.
Lack of Awareness about CRC Risk Factors and Screening Guidelines
The poll results revealed a concerning lack of awareness among 45-year-olds about their CRC risk factors and when and how to get screened. Only 38% of respondents knew that they were of the recommended age to start routine CRC screening. Shockingly, just 27% of Black Americans in this age group were aware of the same recommendation.
This lack of awareness is particularly pronounced among Hispanic Americans, with 20% admitting they don’t know how to get screened. Compared to only 10% of white Americans and 5% of Black Americans. Organizations like the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend most suitable screening strategy.
Advancements in colonoscopy technology have also made the procedure more comfortable. With high-definition scopes and carbon dioxide gas reducing post-procedure discomfort. There are now various preparation options, such as small volume preps and pills, to clean the colon before the procedure.
Fear and Stigma
Fear and stigma associated with CRC screening are significant deterrents for many 45-year-olds. Over a quarter (26%) of respondents admitted that they would delay or avoid screening due to fear of receiving bad news about their health. Additionally, 24% reported discomfort with certain screening methods, such as invasive procedures.
Addressing these fears and stigma is essential. Dr. Huetter suggests that making the process more transparent, such as through live-streaming colonoscopies, could help demystify the procedure. Many patients, cancer organizations, and advocacy societies have already taken steps to normalize and destigmatize CRC screening.
Lack of Health Insurance
Health insurance coverage plays a vital role in accessing healthcare services. Alarmingly, nearly one in 10 45-year-olds in the poll expressed that they would delay or avoid CRC screening due to a lack of health insurance coverage. This percentage increased to 17% among Hispanic Americans and 14% among those living in rural areas.
Of those without health insurance, 60% stated that they had no plans to get screened for CRC. For more than two in five Hispanic Americans (43%) and those living in small towns (45%), having health insurance coverage would make them more likely to get screened.
Prioritization of Other Health Areas
When asked about their top three health priorities, respondents ranked physical fitness/exercise (51%), mental health (50%), and heart health (40%) at the top of the list. Notably, Black Americans were more likely to prioritize self-care and spiritual health (37%), highlighting different health concerns within this demographic.
Interestingly, when considering cancer screenings, 57% of respondents believed it was more important for women to be screened for breast.
In conclusion, several factors contribute to the low rates of CRC screening among 45-year-olds in the United States. These include a lack of time due to life responsibilities, limited awareness about risk factors and screening guidelines. To combat this trend, it’s crucial to raise awareness, provide education, and offer accessible and convenient screening options. Early detection remains the key to effectively combatting colorectal cancer.
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