Colon and rectal cancer rates rise in younger generations, worry doctors
The good news: colon and rectal cancer rates continue to drop in people 55 and older. The bad and mysterious news: those two cancers are rising in younger generations and doctors fear the trend will continue.
At first glance, 31-year-old Kevin Hays has a picture perfect life. He has a loving family and a successful career developing real estate. However, he’s also fighting colon cancer.
“When I was first diagnosed I remember all the doctors and nurses constantly telling me ‘oh you’re too young for this, I can’t believe you’re going through colon cancer,’” Hays said.
But Hays is part of a troubling trend: people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s with colorectal cancer. A recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows a sharp rise in cases among younger adults.
“A lot of people don’t put a 31-year-old face behind colon cancer,” said Hays.
According to the study, rectal cancers jumped 29 percent and colon cancers rose 17 percent in younger adults since 1990.
“There’s some thought that it has to do with the components of the western lifestyle; we’re busy with work, sedentary behaviors, changes in diet,” explained Patrick Boland, M.D., a medical oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. “I think there’s reason for us to really look at this and think about this more whether there’s another strategy we should pursue.”
Hays disagrees with the notion that someone is too young to get these cancers. If symptoms like bleeding, bloating or an unexplained weight loss appear, get checked.
Hays said, “Don’t be afraid of screening. It’s not a terrible procedure and it can really save your life.”
Hays has started a non-profit foundation to raise awareness and advocate for early detection of colorectal cancer across all age groups.
COLORECTAL CANCER ATTACKS YOUNG ADULTS
BACKGROUND: Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common. Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth called a polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some types of polyps can change into cancer over the course of several years, but not all polyps become cancer. The chance of changing into a cancer depends on the kind of polyp. There are 2 main types of polyps. The first is Adenomatous polyps (adenomas): these polyps sometimes change into cancer. Because of this, adenomas are called a pre-cancerous condition. The second is hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps: these polyps are more common, but in general they are not pre-cancerous. There are several types of colorectal cancers, but Adenocarcinomas make up more than 95% of them.
THE STUDY: A study led by American Cancer Society researchers finds that new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among young and middle-aged adults in the U.S. Once age is taken into account, those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950, when risk was lowest. Rectal cancer incidence rates have been increasing longer and faster than colon cancer, rising about 3% per year from 1974 to 2013 in adults ages 20 to 29 and from 1980 to 2013 in adults ages 30 to 39. In adults ages 40 to 54, rectal cancer rates increased by 2% per year from the 1990s to 2013. An important message to learn from the study is that young people can and do get colorectal cancer, so they should pay attention to signs and symptoms, and so should their doctors. The most common signs and symptoms are a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days, rectal bleeding, cramping or abdominal pain, and weakness and fatigue. Because of growing evidence that colorectal cancer is increasing in people younger than age 55, the study authors propose that screening be considered before age 50.
NEW REGULATIONS: Treatment for colorectal cancer is based largely on the stage of the cancer. People with colorectal cancers that have not spread to distant sites usually have surgery as the main or first treatment. Additional chemotherapy may also be used. Most additional treatment is given for about 6 months. Recurrent cancer means that the cancer has returned after treatment. The recurrence may be local (near the area of the initial tumor), or it may be in distant organs. If the cancer comes back in a distant site, it is most likely to appear first in the liver. Surgery may be an option for some patients. If not, chemo may be tried first to shrink the tumor, which may then be followed by surgery to remove them.
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