Increase in millennials diagnosed with colon cancer

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

Dr. Girish Mishra, vice chief of gastroenterology with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, wants people to learn more about the preventable disease, especially millennials, after a new study that was released this week.

The results of the research, published in The Journal Of The National Cancer Institute, shines a light on the relationship between colon cancer and millennials. Researchers discovered overall, colorectal cancer is decreasing, while increasing among young adults in their 20s and 30s.

Researches don’t know why the number of millennials being diagnosed has increased steadily over the decades, but Mishra says there are factors that contribute to one developing the disease.

“Diet certainly plays a factor, weight plays a factor, alcohol plays a factor,” Mishra said. “Inherited genetic diseases play a factor, and other diseases, like Crohn’s disease.”

Mishra says colon cancer is preventable with early detection and a healthy lifestyle.

“It is totally preventable and there aren't too many diseases that we face that one can say that it is a total avoidable cancer,” he said.

Hospital workers are participating in the national awareness month by setting up an informational booth and putting an inflatable colon on display in the lobby. This gives workers the opportunity to talk with employees, patients and families about the symptoms.

“People should pay attention to a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or subtle signs of anemia,” Mishra said.

Mishra says the most common screening method to detect abnormalities in the colon is a colonoscopy. The device used for the procedure is on display at the informational booth for people to get familiar with.

“I think colon cancer has some negative stigma attached to it. I think most individuals fear a colonoscopy, but I would say, unanimously, every patient that I speak to after the procedure says it was no big deal. You get sedated for the procedure. The toughest challenge for a colonoscopy is the bowel prep that one has to take to cleanse your bowels,” Mishra said.

The procedure helps with early detection. It allows doctors to see if there are polyps, potentially cancerous growths, on the inner lining of the colon. Mishra says removing those can play a big role in preventing colon cancer.

Mishra says the standard U.S. guidelines for regular screenings is at age 50. However, family history, the development of other illnesses or body irregularities are reasons why people should be screened earlier.