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Colon cancer rates are rising in young Americans, but insurance barriers are making screening harder

Andrea Shin, University of California, Los Angeles, The Conversation on

Published in Health & Fitness

More than 53,000 Americans are projected to die from colorectal cancer this year. Although colorectal cancer is the second-most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States, it can be cured if caught early. Detecting a tumor as soon as possible can help you get treatment as soon as possible, giving you the best chance for survival.

In my work as a gastroenterologist, I treat patients from every background and walk of life. Uniting them are a growing number of insurance barriers threatening access to timely care. All too often, payers take a long time to make coverage determinations, or they even deny them outright.

With the alarming rise of colorectal cancer diagnoses among Americans under 50, it is more important than ever for people to know their cancer risk and when to get screened.

Here are common questions I and other gastroenterologists get from patients about colorectal cancer:

Anybody at any age can develop colorectal cancer. However, some people may be more likely to get the disease than others.

For example, people with a family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of polyps, which are abnormal growths in the tissue of the colon or rectum, may have a higher risk.

 

Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis can also increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. This is because the chronic inflammation associated with these diseases can promote the development of abnormal growths.

Race and ethnicity may also affect colon cancer risk. Black and Indigenous Americans are significantly more likely to develop – and die from – colorectal cancer. While genetics does play a role in disease development, much of the risk of colorectal cancer is linked to environmental factors. These include a person’s income level, types of food and groceries available in the neighborhood, access to primary care providers and specialists, and a wide variety of other social determinants of health.

Lifestyle factors like smoking, not exercising regularly and poor diet can also increase your colon cancer risk. Researchers have shown that red meat releases chemicals that can cause inflammation, while high-fiber foods and vegetables can help lower inflammation. Similarly, a sedentary lifestyle can also increase inflammation. Smoking can lead to harmful genetic changes in colon cells.

People with colorectal cancer usually don’t exhibit symptoms until the disease progresses to a later stage. That is why early and regular screening is critical.

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