Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month highlights importance of colonoscopies

Early onset colorectal cancer cases on the rise.

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Colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly occurring cancers in the United States. Combined, it is estimated there will be more than 150,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer reported in the U.S. in 2022 alone.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the perfect opportunity to talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have or schedule a colonoscopy.

Dr. Kimberly Kolkhorst, a gastroenterologist at Essentia Health, says she is seeing a younger demographic being impacted by the disease.

“Colorectal cancer in patients younger than 50 years old, also known as early onset colorectal cancer, is currently rising at alarming rates. In fact, since the 1990s, the rate of colorectal cancer has doubled in this age group,” said Dr. Kolkhorst.

According to recent analyses, the incidence of early onset colorectal cancer is rising by approximately 2% per year. Additionally, these individuals are more likely than their older counterparts to be diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic disease and suffer poorer outcomes.


“The reasons for this increase remain unknown, but some hypotheses include processed-food diets, diets high in red meat, obesity and lack of exercise,” said Dr. Kolkhorst.

Dr. Kolkhorst says that it is very important to pay attention to your symptoms.

“If you notice new-onset constipation, blood in your stools, abdominal pain/bloating, anemia, unintentional weight loss, change in stool caliber or new-onset diarrhea, please talk to your health care provider and request to schedule a colonoscopy,” says Dr. Kolkhorst.

A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a fiber-optic scope with a camera is inserted into the colon to look for polyps and other growths, some of which can be removed at the same time.

Early detection of colorectal cancer is key to increasing survival rates and limiting the chance of spread to other organs.

“Like so many cancers, if we can diagnose it early, the complexity of treatment options is significantly reduced, life expectancy is prolonged and quality of life for the patient is greatly improved,” said Dr. Kolkhorst.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recently decreased the age in which average-risk individuals should receive colon cancer screening from 50 to 45.

“This is a step in the right direction, but until we can decrease the screening age further, it is crucial for patients to pay close attention to their symptoms and speak up if they have concerns,” said Dr. Kolkhorst.


Colonoscopies are the most effective screening method, but there also are a pair of stool-based tests that can be done at home. These rely on examining stool-sample irregularities that may prompt a colonoscopy.

You can learn more by visiting the colorectal cancer page on Essentia Health’s website .

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