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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Doctors want earlier colorectal cancer screenings as cases rise among younger adults

Carle Cancer Institute
Eric Stock
Carle Cancer Institute

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and doctors are keenly aware of its risks this year.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports adults are being diagnosed with colon and rectal cancers at younger ages. Those in their early 50s and younger make up 1 in 5 colorectal cancer cases. That's twice as high as the rate a generation ago.

Bahnu Vakkalanka
Bahnu Vakkalanka

Doctors now recommend getting screened for colorectal cancer at age 45, rather than the traditional age 50, and even sooner if there are warning signs or a family history of cancer.

In this edition of WGLT's Sound Health, medical oncologist Bahnu Vakkalanka from the Carle Cancer Institute in Normal said younger adults have become more at risk partially because people have become less active.

“People’s lifestyles have changed, dietary indiscretion seems to have crept into people’s lives, along with the change in microbiology of the intestinal tract could all be contributing to the increased instance of colorectal cancers,” Vakkalanka said.

Vakkalanka said the COVID pandemic likely made cancer risks worse as many people became less active. He said it's worth it to get tested early, even if it increases the risk of more false positives.

“It is possible, but I think considering the possibility that we are going to save some young lives, the increased incidence of false positives can certainly be something that we can potentially tradeoff,” Vakkalanka said.

Vakkalanka said a colonoscopy remains the most reliable test, but added the Cologuard home test is also a good option for patients either too sick or reluctant to take the invasive exam.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer deaths. Vakkalanka said colorectal cancer is highly preventable and treatable when caught early.

Vakkalanka said the best way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is to cut red meat production in half. He said red meat takes longer to digest and the longer it stagnates in your bowels the more likely carcinogens can develop.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.