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Non-specific symptoms are reason enough to get screened for cancer—even if you’re in your 30s


Cancers among people under 50 are on the rise, according to a new study published last month. Notably, the increasing trend is most prominent in 30-somethings. 

Most cancers are found in people aged 65 years or older. Therefore, guidelines have typically recommended cancer screenings for relatively older populations.

That standard may be leaving many younger people to ignore their personal risk for cancer. (“I’m 35. That abnormal mole is probably not cancer, and I should probably not worry about getting it checked.”) But according to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the fourth leading cause of death amongst people aged 20-39, behind accidents, suicide, and homicide.

Determining who has an increased risk for cancer requires much more than polling for birthdays. Cancer screening recommendations informed by comprehensive risk assessments are necessary to detect cancer early— especially in younger populations who might otherwise not think to get screened. For employers and unions who provide healthcare benefits to younger people, sophisticated risk assessment programs can help ensure lower financial burden from cancer in the long run. 

In some instances, people with early-onset cancer can show “non-specific” symptoms. These cases are especially relevant for people at risk for breast cancer or colorectal cancer—two cancers that have shown particular rise for people in their 30s. 

The American Cancer Society says there are ways to lower your risk for cancer, which can include advanced or more frequent screenings if you are at high-risk. For example, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, screening may be recommended via colonoscopy, rather than with an at-home stool based test, and may be recommended earlier than age 45 . The American Cancer Society also recommends screening for cervical cancer as young as age 25. 

Knowing your actual risk for cancer is more than evaluating a non-specific symptom. It could mean genetic testing to look for mutations in the BRCA1 gene, which increase your risk for breast cancer; or mutations in a gene associated with Lynch syndrome, an inherited genetic condition that leads to an 80% chance of developing colorectal cancer. It can also mean evaluating family history, occupational risk, and lifestyle factors like alcohol, smoking, even sleep habits.

A “non-specific” symptom might be the first reason someone gets acquainted with their cancer risk, but it doesn’t have to be the last. Simple, comprehensive cancer screening and prevention programs help people of all ages stay ahead of late-stage cancer diagnoses.