Experts update colonoscopy guidelines for younger adults as cancer cases rise

Physicians perform a colonoscopy (CNN)

It’s the fourth most common cancer in the U.S., and a recent study showed colon cancer is on the rise in younger adults.

The American Cancer Society recommends adults at average risk start regular screenings at age 45.

“We are seeing colon cancer in much younger patients under the age of 50,” said Dr. Bruce Salzberg with Atlanta Gastroenterology.

Experts don’t know the exact cause for the alarming rise, but they suspect some leading factors.

“Obesity, smoking, alcohol, lack of physical activity -- those are obviously the kinds of things we try to eliminate,” Salzberg said.

While some patients may not see any symptoms, Salzberg said there are some signs to look for.

“No. 1 one is rectal bleeding. Many patients think that it’s hemorrhoids,” Salzberg said.

He said you should see a doctor before deciding it’s hemorrhoids and pay attention to symptoms like abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss and changes in bowel movements.

“That’s the one thing I always tell my patients,” Salzberg said. “Many patients are afraid of a colonoscopy, but I tell them there’s nothing to be afraid about. It’s really a simple procedure. And the fact is it’s preventable if we could do a colonoscopy and let’s say we find a polyp, we remove that polyp, well, that polyp no longer can eventually change.”

The American Cancer Society also reminds us that when it comes to treatment, early detection is key.

If you think you may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to speak with your doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for you and how often to get tested.