LOS ANGELES - Cases of colon cancer are on the rise among young adults, a new study shows. Doctors hope this new research will be a call to action.
The study, released Tuesday by the American Cancer Society, serves as a reminder that while this type of cancer is rare in the young, no one should ignore symptoms just because the person is in his or her 20s or 30s.
Dr. Anton Bilchik, the chief of medicine at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, said his 23-year-old son called him, concerned about the study.
"Suddenly (there's) this anxiety among him and his peers about the risk of colon cancer," said Bilchik.
Although colon cancer deaths overall are declining, Bilchik said cases among millennials are climbing.
"The incidence of colon cancer is going up in younger people and in particular those born after 1990," Bilchik said.
In the American Cancer Society study, researchers found someone born in 1990 has double the risk of early colon cancer and quadruple the risk of early rectal cancer compared to someone born in 1950.
"The incidence is increasing in young people and no one knows why," Bilchik said.
However, Bilchik says other studies offer clues such as the many links between obesity and different types of cancer.
"And so the thought is that it may well be related to lifestyle, obesity and possibly even environmental," Bilchik said.
So should all millennials start booking colonoscopies and getting stool tests?
Bilchik said the answer is no but added, "If they're having symptoms such as stomach pain, rectal bleeding, weight loss or if they have a family history, then a colonoscopy should be considered."
Researchers said these young people will carry the same risk as they age unless they take action.
"If millennials can improve the way they eat, not smoke - and that's the other important factor - and increase their level of activity, they can reduce the chance of getting colon cancer enormously," he said.
Bilchik's son, Dean, hopes his millennial peers will get the message.