New Jersey's been experiencing a persistent increase in cases of colorectal cancer among younger men and women.

Continually the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both New Jersey men and women, approximately 10 percent of cancer diagnoses in the colon or rectum are made each year in residents aged 20 to 49, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

The cancer types among young adulthood are still considered rare for individuals under 50, but the problem has been growing.

"There's definitely a trend towards early onset colorectal cancer. The statistic are kind of shocking," said Dr. Michael Arvanitis, colorectal surgeon at Monmouth Medical Center.

Nationally in 2017, he said, three out of 10 cases affected individuals under the age of 55.

The American Cancer Society recently updated guidelines to recommend that regular screening for colorectal cancer begin at age 45, rather than 50, "for people at average risk."

With the change, 22,000,000 Americans are added to the screening pool. If it's caught early, Arvanitis said, the cure rate is above 95 percent.

Screening may have to begin earlier than 45 years old for those with a family history of colorectal cancer, Arvinitis said. For example, if one's mother was diagnosed at 45, they should get screened at age 35.

Specific reasons for the gradual uptick in early onset cases are not known, Arvinitis said, but health officials are "looking at lifestyle, the environment, and genetic factors."

Lifestyle factors that may contribute to an increased risk, according to the CDC, include a lack of physical activity, obesity, alcohol consumption, tobacco, and a diet low in fruits and vegetables.

While colorectal polyps and cancer don't always cause symptoms, signs may include blood in one's stool, stomach pains and cramps that won't go away, and unexplainable weight loss.

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