Is It Time to Talk to Your Adult Children About Colon Cancer?

You’ve probably talked to your kids about important issues like time management and personal finances, but have you ever talked to your kids about colon cancer? Contrary to what most people think, colon cancer is not just a disease for the elderly. In fact, young-onset colon cancer incidence is increasing in individuals under the age of 50. If you’ve never had the conversation with your kids about colon cancer prevention and awareness, now is the time.

It’s very likely that you may not know how or when to bring up the subject, or even what to say. After all, colon cancer and colonoscopies are not exactly dinner table conversation. We couldn’t agree more, so choose a setting that is comfortable for everyone. You could consider a family walk, a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, or a trip to your local park.

Once you’ve chosen the setting, you need to think of how you will present your message. Remember, your goal is to inform and encourage. It might help to begin with a few facts to inform your kids about the prevalence of young-onset colon cancer. You could read these facts or make them into a game of True or False (and by the way, all of these statements are true!).

1. About 10% of colon cancer cases are diagnosed in people under the age of 50.

2. Rates of colon cancer incidence and mortality are increasing among the young but are decreasing in those over age 50.

3. Rates of young-onset rectal cancer are twice as high as the rate of young-onset colon cancer.

4. Common symptoms of colon cancer include abdominal cramping, changes in bowel habits, narrow stools, blood in the stool, anemia, fatigue and vomiting. However, symptoms often do not appear in the early stages of the disease.

5. Physician-related delays such as missed symptoms or misdiagnosis occurs in 15-50% of young-onset colon cancer cases.

6. Family history plays a larger role in colon cancer development than previously thought.

7. Even though young-onset colon cancer is on the rise, colon cancer screening is not recommended until the age of 50 unless an individual has specific risk factors such as family history, inflammatory bowel disease or genetic syndromes.

After you share the facts, you need to tell them what to do. Encourage your children to speak up if they sense that something is wrong and to make an appointment with their doctor. If they don’t have a GI specialists, we can help them find a good one in their area. Early diagnosis means early intervention, and colon cancer is over 90% treatable when diagnosed in the early stages (Source: Colon Cancer Alliance).

Talking colon cancer could feel embarrassing, but a few awkward minutes equips your kids with knowledge that could save their lives. Once you’ve finished your conversation, end the evening with something fun like going out for ice cream or a game of bowling-- and give yourself a gold star for being a great parent!

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