Actor Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death from colon cancer at the age of 43 has raised awareness about the disease among young people.
Americans over the age of 45 are advised to be screened for colorectal cancer, but researchers are discovering that incidences of these cancers among people under 45 are increasing at an alarming rate.
Data from Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Young Onset Colorectal Cancer shows that in ten years, cases among people under the age of 50 are expected to double.
In an interview with NY1’s Roma Torre, Dr. Andrea Cercek, the center’s co-director, said it is becoming a global epidemic, as 75 percent of the cases presented at Memorial Sloan Kettering are at an advanced stage among young people.
“Since we’re not screening, they often wait until they present with symptoms,” she said, adding that many young people also do not seek care for those symptoms, as they are able to tolerate them better than an older person may.
Cercek also said it can be difficult for young patients to be diagnosed, as colon and rectal cancers are presumed to occur more often in older patients.
She said it is still unknown what exactly is leading to the rise, as many young people being diagnosed with colorectal cancers are fit and active, with no genetic predisposition or family history of the diseases. Experts believes there is some change in the environment or possibly our diets that is changing the colons of young people and causing them to contract the cancers earlier in life.
Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Young Onset Colorectal Cancer is the first of its kind in the country, and Cercek said it has two main goals – to research why cases are growing among young people, and to offer patients support.
“It is really critically important to offer them help not just with treatment of the cancer, with dealing with the diagnosis, but the entire journey,” she said.
Cercek said it is important to pay attention to symptoms, including persistent abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, blood in stool, narrowing of stool or change of bowel habits.