Sunday, April 14, 2024

More and more young people are getting colorectal cancer. Find out what you should know and how you can lend a hand

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Here’s a concerning fact: By 2030, the number of cases of colorectal cancer in people under 50 is expected to almost double. It’s predicted to become the main cause of death for individuals aged 20 to 49.

But there’s some positive news too. Overall, colon cancer diagnoses have gone down, and experts credit this to more cancer screenings.

So, what can we do to decrease the rates of this disease among younger people? And why is it even happening?

For younger patients, researchers believe that something happened in the 1950s and 1960s that led to the current cases of colorectal cancer in young adults. Dr. Robin Mendelsohn, a gastroenterologist, says it’s not a simple answer. It’s probably a mix of changes in behavior or environment.

Researchers are exploring various factors, like parents’ age at the time of the patient’s birth, birth method (C-section or not), breastfeeding, antibiotic use, and even exposure to wifi.

Younger patients often get diagnosed at later stages because they aren’t screened, and it may take several visits to different doctors to figure out the issue.

April Witzel, a nurse diagnosed with colorectal cancer at 45, had no obvious risk factors. Her symptoms were stomach pain, nausea, and blood in her stool. Advocating for herself was crucial as she faced challenges getting the right care.

Most young colorectal cancer patients don’t have a family history or a genetic disposition towards it. Even those with healthy lifestyles, like vegetarians or marathon runners, can get affected.

Dr. Mendelsohn recommends everyone over 45 to get screened. Colonoscopies are still the best for early detection, as they can find and remove polyps during the procedure.

African Americans, especially, are at higher risk. Knowing family history is crucial. Timothy Mitchell, diagnosed at 43, emphasizes the importance of talking about family medical history. Lynch syndrome, a genetic factor, increased his risk, and now he encourages early screenings for his sons.

Mitchell, an avid motorcycle rider, uses unconventional conversations about colonoscopies to potentially save lives. He stresses that cancer is detectable, treatable, and beatable.

So, what should you do? Know your family history, talk about it, and be aware of Lynch syndrome or colon cancer. If you notice significant changes in bowel habits or blood in your stool, consult a doctor. Find a doctor who takes your concerns seriously and don’t shy away from discussing these matters, even if it feels embarrassing. As Witzel says, sharing stories can save lives.

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