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Colorectal Cancer Month: Disease appearing in younger Americans

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Eric Tegethoff

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(Washington News Service) March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, highlighting the third most common form of cancer and the second most lethal form in the world.

Dr. Margaret Chin, family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente in Lynnwood, Washington, said the number of younger Americans with advanced stages of colorectal cancer has gone up in recent decades, prompting the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to lower its recommended screening age from 50 to 45.

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"This is surprising to a lot of us but the statistics have shown this change from what we used to think as a disease for older people to now a disease for younger people," Chin observed.

Chin pointed out the proportion of cases for people under 55 has nearly doubled over the last 25 years. However, she noted the total number of colorectal cancer cases has actually declined, which is likely due to better detection.

Chin advised there are options for how people can get screened. The traditional method is by colonoscopy, but a newer method is the FIT kit test, which can be used at home. Chin stressed it is important to find the best option for each person.

"The best screening test is the one that you will do," Chin emphasized. "I just want to encourage people that we cannot find cancer if we're not looking for it. So please talk to your provider about getting screened as soon as you can."

Colonoscopies are typically done every 10 years while the FIT tests are taken every year. With FIT kits, doctors look for microscopic blood in stool samples.