According to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, there's been a steady uptick in the number of colon and rectal cancers among younger people—even as those numbers have been dropping among older Americans.
Researchers found that people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in 1950. There's been an uptick in younger people being diagnosed since the mid 1980s—while during the same time period, rates of the disease among adults over the age of 55 dropped.
Why is this happening? Well, researchers still aren't sure. “It could be related to stress, or diet or other behaviours; more research is being done to help us understand the rise," says Lisa Ganjhu, clinical associate professor, division of gastroenterology and liver diseases, NYU Langone Medical Centre.
The news is especially worrisome for women, since colon cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer deaths among women, right behind breast cancer and lung cancer, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
But there is good news: Colon cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, so if you notice any of these symptoms (and especially if you have a family history of the disease), book an appointment with your doc, pronto. If she's concerned, she may order a colonoscopy or other imaging to take a closer look at what's going on.
A speck of bright red blood on your TP post-wipe is likely a small haemorrhoid or harmless fissure, but if there are large amounts, or you see maroon or black-tinged blood, call your doctor. The latter is a sign that there’s bleeding further up in the colon, says Ganjhu.
Everyone gets constipated occasionally, but prolonged problems pooping can indicate a blockage in the colon. That’s because at the beginning of the colon, your poop is soft and can manoeuvre around any obstacles in the way. As it progresses to the end of the colon, it firms up. If there’s a tumour at the end of the rectum, this harder waste has a hard time getting by, says Ganju. Diarrhoea that lasts more than a few days should also set off warning bells.
Out-of-nowhere gut spasms in the lower stomach can just be gas…or something more serious. If the pains are unfamiliar, or you feel like you need to poop but can’t, your doctor will want to know, says Ganjhu.
If there's something blocking your colon, your stool is forced into a narrow, ribbon-like shape to get past it. If your poop reminds you of the other #2 for more than a few days, seek a medical opinion, says Ganjhu. It could have another cause, but best to be on the safe side.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health.