Colorectal Cancers & Young Adults

            Over the years, I have noticed we have seen more and more young people coming to our clinic, New Hope Unlimited, who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Older age does not seem to be a factor anymore.  

      Matt McMillen recently published a troubling article concerning the rise in colorectal cancers in younger adults.  One young woman had health complaints that were dismissed by 3 different doctors. She had blood in her stool and every doctor dismissed it as if it were fissures or hemorrhoids.  Finally, at age 24 she was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer. She was one of the lucky women to survive after surgery was performed.

      Colon and rectal cancer cases are on the rise in those under the age of 50.  This is a group that is rarely screened for cancer. Rates among the younger people increased by more than 11% between 2004 and 2014.  About 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016, which includes colon cancer and rectal cancer. The American Cancer Society reports this information.  They also believe that about 1 in 7 will be under the age of 50. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center researchers predicted last year that cases of colon cancer among those ages 20 to 34 will increase by a staggering 90% by 2030, and the number of rectal cancer diagnoses to more than double.

      This problem is particularly pronounced among certain minority groups, according to Durado Brooks, MD, and managing director of cancer control intervention at the American Cancer Society.  He feels that African-Americans are about twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed before the age of 50 and young Alaska natives are diagnosed at 3 times the rate of whites. There are also rises being seen in European nations and Australia.

      The overall number of young people with it is still small compared with the older people, but younger people are often diagnosed with more advanced disease that requires more aggressive treatment.  Most of the cases report that their doctor told them that they are too young to have colorectal cancer screening and disregard the possibility of colorectal cancer when bleeding is reported to them.  Therefore, the cancer is diagnosed late and makes the cancer worse for the younger people.

      Younger people diagnosed with stage 3 cancer usually do better with the treatment and can tolerate more aggressive treatment than someone in their 80’s who has stage 3 colorectal cancer along with other health problems.  Those who lack insurance often go to an urgent care clinic where they are told not to worry about it. At that point, the pain from colorectal cancer can no longer be ignored and a colonoscopy will reveal a tumor.

      Even the experts aren’t sure why there is a rise of colorectal cancer among the young people.  About 1/3 of the cases can be attributed either to a genetic condition or family history of the disease.  It is unclear for the remaining 2/3rds. There is no large-scale study focused on young people so they don’t know if it’s diet or lack of exercise or some other factors.  It could possibly be the changes in diet over the last few decades as younger people eat a lot more fast food and processed food.

      Guidelines recommend testing for colorectal and other types of cancers starting at age 50.  If you have a family history, start screening much earlier. The family history should go back two generations and include your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  If anyone in your family has had colorectal cancer, you should start testing 10 years before the age at which the youngest person in your family got the disease.

      Recognize and report to your doctor any changes in bowel habits or blood in the stool or rectal area, as well as persistent abdominal cramping or pain.  Be an advocate for yourself and insist your symptoms be taken seriously. Perhaps, even demand a second opinion. Be safe, not sorry!

Dr Fredda Branyon

image c/o pixabay

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