Young, healthy and with no family history: Colon cancer struck anyway

Colon cancer used to be considered a disease that primarily affected older people. However, the American Cancer Society senior vice president, oncologist Dr. Christina Annunziata warns that it's now the leading cause of cancer death in men under 50 and the second leading cause in women under 50, behind breast cancer.

Unfortunately, this trend is only increasing. A recent study analyzed data from more than 5,000 people who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age 50, and found that abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and iron deficiency anemia were common symptoms three months to two years before these younger patients were diagnosed with colon cancer.

Chris Lopez, a 35-year-old chef in Dallas, Texas, first experienced intense stomach cramps shortly after a vacation in California in 2019. After months of worsening pain, blood in his stools, and 60 pounds of weight loss, a colonoscopy in December 2019 revealed a 4-inch tumor.

Colon cancer in younger people requires increased awareness and earlier screening, says Dr. Annunziata. However, there isn't enough data to support regular screening for those under 45. If you are experiencing any symptoms listed above, it is important to advocate for yourself and seek the attention of a healthcare professional.

It's important to note that the underlying reasons for the increase in colon cancer among younger people are not yet fully defined. However, risk factors for colon cancer include diabetes, diet, and obesity.

People at average risk of colorectal cancer should start regular screening at age 45 with a colonoscopy or a stool-based test that looks for blood in fecal matter. The American Cancer Society advises that the first blood test to screen for colorectal cancer could be approved this year, as it looks for DNA released by cancerous tumors.

The number one prevention tool is a colonoscopy because it can help doctors find precancerous spots and remove them before they become cancer.

For anyone wondering how to advocate for their health if they're experiencing symptoms, Lopez recommends standing your ground and insisting on further testing if symptoms aren't improving. He recalls being brushed off by his doctor initially, but says it's important to continue pushing for healthcare professionals to listen to your concerns.

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