RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Doctors are saying colon cancer is no longer an 'old people's disease'. The age for adults diagnosed is getting younger.
New data from the American Cancer Society shows the proportion of colorectal cancer in people under age 55 has doubled between 1995 and 2019.
Colon cancer happens when polyps or growths mutate and turn into an invasive cancer. It can lead to a mass inside the intestines which can cause a blockage or even spread.
Doctors say most people don't have symptoms, but if you have any family history or consistent gut or bowel issues you may need to advocate for yourself. Screening for colon cancer involves a colonoscopy which can be an invasive procedure.
ABC11 spoke with UNC Dr. Hannah Sannoff at UNC Lineberger Cancer Center in Chapel Hill. She said colon cancer is one of the more common forms of cancer and is the third leading cause of cancer in men and women, as well as the third leading cause of death.
"Overall rates are going down except in people under 50," Dr. Sannoff said. "We've actually seen a dramatic increase in the rates of colon cancer in people who are 50 and under the rates are actually even higher in rectal cancer, which is the bottom part of your colon."
She said things in a person's environment could increase the risk of colorectal cancer such as obesity and processed foods, particularly processed meats.
"We're increasingly seeing (probably related to high sugar diets) bad smoking has some effect," said Dr. Sannoff. "And absolutely all of those things contribute to our gut microbiome, which we've all learned turns out to be a really important part of our health. All these bacteria that live in our intestines. And that's likely related to sort of how they processed the food we eat and the effects that can have on gut inflammation, which can promote cancer."
The recommended age for colon screening has been lowered from 50 to 40.