Since 1990, the number of people diagnosed with colon cancer has been on the rise. Surprisingly, the number of women diagnosed with colon cancer has increased at a steady rate. Women are more well-educated about breast self-exams and how to recognize potential problems in their reproductive organs. They’re more knowledgeable about skin care and when to become concerned about moles and spots on their skin, but now medical professionals are warning them to be vigilant about their colon health.

A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has found that people born after 1990 are presenting with symptoms of colon and rectal cancers. This has led them to surmise that the people in that age bracket have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born between 1950 and 1990. This uptick began in the mid-1980s, while at the same time, rates for those over the age of 55 dropped.

Researchers haven’t yet determined why the numbers have changed so drastically. Their not-yet-substantiated belief is that it may be related to stress, diet, and/or behaviors. Of course, further research still needs to be done, but these are some of the factors they will be looking at to determine the cause of the uptick.

Despite the growing numbers, there is good news. Unlike many types of cancer, colon cancer is one of the leading preventable forms of cancer. Like with any other disease, if you have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, you should inform your doctor and schedule an exam if deemed medically important by your physician. A colonoscopy or other imaging may be ordered.

Anyone, regardless of family history, should be familiar with signs and symptoms of colon cancer. One of the first signs is large amounts of dark, black-tinged or maroon blood in feces. While not a definitive indication, it could indicate something that a medical professional will have to assess. Prolonged constipation may suggest that there’s a blockage in your colon. It could mean that you have a tumor at the end of your colon.

Lower stomach spasms are another sign that something serious may be going on. If it’s an unfamiliar pain, different from anything you ever experienced, like gas or bloating, contact your doctor for an appointment.

If you notice a change in the consistency or the shape of your stool, that is something you will want to alert your doctor about. Thin, narrow, ribbon-like shaped stool could indicate there’s a blockage in your colon.

Anything that seems off or unusual should be disclosed to your doctor. Even if you think they’re nothing to be alarmed about, it is better to consult with your doctor and do the tests necessary to help combat this unfortunate disease. Let a medical professional determine your level of alarm. If caught early, the prognosis is good. Do your due diligence. Pay attention to your body. Communicate openly and honestly with a healthcare professional.