Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. The majority of colorectal cancer cases (72%) occur in the colon but the rectum is a common cancer site as well.
Around 90% of newly diagnosed colon cancer cases occur in those over 50 years of age. Luckily, the rate of colon cancer in this age group has been slowly declining thanks to increased awareness and early screening.
However, there has also been a recent rise in colon cancer cases in people who are in their 20s or 30s.
This population group is at a higher risk of being diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer because doctor’s rarely suspect colon cancer in this age group. Knowing more about colon cancer in young people is important today given the recent rise in colon cancer cases in younger generations.
Colon Cancer And Age
A review article published last year in the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology states that at a time when colon cancer rates have experienced a decline in those over 50, data from the West are showing an obvious rise in colon cancer incidences in younger people.
The article also explains that aside from having a family history of colon cancer, there is no consensus on screening young people who may be at risk. Colon cancer in older people usually develops from a pre-existing growth inside the intestinal lining called a polyp.
It can take up to 10 years for a polyp to actually develop into cancer and this is why early screening is so successful at preventing colon cancer. However, doctors will usually recommend screening for polyps and colon cancer to high-risk groups such as those with certain gene mutations, those with older than 50, and those with a family history of colon cancer.
Since younger people are considered a low-risk group, doctors may see no need for screening and the cancer is likely to go unnoticed which is what happened to Sarah DeBord whose story was covered in the New York Times.
A Personal Account
Sarah DeBord was just 24 when she noticed blood in her stool and decided to visit a gastroenterologist. The doctor diagnosed her with hemorrhoids at the time and since then, whenever seeing blood in her stool, she’d simply attribute the symptom to hemorrhoids.
Ten years later when she was training for a half marathon, Sarah lost a significant amount of weight and was constantly constipated.
At first, she thought the symptoms were due to vigorous training, but medical exams revealed that what she had was stage IV colorectal cancer that has spread to her lungs and that was inoperable.
Sarah’s story clearly portrays how problematic colon cancer can be for young people with no known risks for colorectal cancer. Although Sarah was not a part of the high-risk group that are often sent for cancer screening, her symptoms were, nevertheless, indicative of colon cancer. DeBord urges young people to learn more about colon cancer and when suspecting colon cancer, ask for a second opinion in case their doctors are dismissive.
Why Colon Cancer Happens In The Young?
According to the review article mentioned earlier, colon cancer in younger people is most likely to be due to heritable conditions such as Lynch syndrome. However, research has also found that unidentified genetic variations could likely be the cause of colorectal cancer in the younger population.
When combined with changes in lifestyle and environment such as reduced physical activity, pollution, urbanization, and poor diets, the rrisk of colon cancer in those with a genetic factor increases. Given that studies show an increased incidence of colon cancer among young people in countries with high red meat consumption, it goes without saying that red meat is still among the top dietary factors strongly tied to colon cancer onset.
What To Do To Improve Your Outcomes?
To prevent and get early treatment for colon cancer, early screening if you notice any unusual symptoms is advised. Look for symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, blood in stool, abdominal pain, flatulence, unusual fatigue, anemia, and unexplained weight loss.
If your doctor believes that there is no need for a colonoscopy but you are worried about your symptoms, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Doctors will often avoid sending patients for colonoscopies when they believe it is unnecessary because this procedure does come with its own set of risks. But patients often know their body and their symptoms best so demanding screening may turn to be crucial to take charge of your own health.
Colon cancer is most often diagnosed in older adults. However, even young people can be diagnosed with colon cancer.
Both patients and doctors may shrug the symptoms presented as a minor problem with the cancer going unnoticed for years until it is too late. Knowing more about the symptoms and risk factors for colon cancer can help young people get the diagnosis and treatment they need to improve their outcomes.