Colon cancer doesn’t care how old you are
Written by The Colorectal Cancer Alliance
“I wake up, take my plethora of various pills, go to school, do my homework, take more pills, go to sleep, then wake up again and press repeat.”
At 17, most teenagers are a hub of energy, busily taking on the challenges of college prep while managing the difficult balance between what’s after high school and the day-to-day drama of being a senior.
But for Jessica Joseph, it’s a little harder to maintain the carefree attitude as the summer approaches.
In December 2016, just a few months before graduation, she was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. The diagnosis has come with a new perspective for what the future holds.
“A year before my diagnosis I had stomach pain, but my doctors told me it was probably just IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). The pain went away and I didn’t think anything of it. Because of my age, the doctors never thought it could be colon cancer.”
While many people still consider this cancer to be an “old man’s disease,” stories like Jessica’s are proof that the face of colon cancer is changing. While rates of the disease in the older generations are declining, new studies are revealing a troubling new trend: colon cancer is on the rise in those under 50.
In fact, new data suggests that those born after 1990, like Jessica, have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in 1950.
Researchers and doctors don’t know why those under age 50 are being diagnosed more often and at a later stage than any other group.
“We hear over and over again that members of our community, young adults, in the prime of their lives, are being told they are too young for a colonoscopy because they aren’t 50 years old,” said Colon Cancer Alliance CEO, Michael Sapienza in a statement on the new data. “And by the time the cancer is found, months later, it is too late.”
Knowing your family history, speaking up about your symptoms, and getting screened are the keys to catching this disease early, whether you’re 15 or 50. It might not be the typical dinner conversation, but talking about your colon can help not only you, but your entire family.
Here are some tips to get the conversation started:
- Ask your parents or immediate family members if they’ve been screened for colon cancer.
- Have them share how it went, and if they know of anyone in their family who has had any issues, from polyps to cancer.
- If they do, find out more. How old were they? What’s your relationship with them? What exactly were their symptoms/results?
For now, Jessica is focused on finishing exams and graduating in time to enjoy one last summer before college.
“You know your body better than anyone else, and if you feel like something is wrong, don’t be afraid to say something,” says Jessica.
At the Colon Cancer Alliance, we believe colon cancer is a senseless killer that must be stopped. Our mission is to empower a nation of advocates who work with us to offer support for patients, raise awareness of preventative measures, and inspire efforts to fund critical research. Together, we can end colon cancer within our lifetime.
The Colon Cancer Alliance has received the highest four-star rating from Charity Navigator six years in a row in addition to being a BBB accredited non-profit.