Study shows the disease is on the rise in young adults
College kids are too young to get colorectal cancer. That’s what Annie Speck thought until she was diagnosed with the disease at age 21.
In her third year at Stephen F. Austin State University, Speck was home for summer break when she started showing symptoms.
An MD Anderson-led study, however, reveals that youth doesn’t somehow make a person immune to these types of cancer.
In the next 15 years, more than one in 10 colon cancers and nearly one quarter of rectal cancers will be diagnosed in patients ages 20-34, according to the study. It also found that, in this age group, colon and rectal cancers are expected to increase by 90% and 124.2%, respectively, by 2030. For those ages 35-49, the predicted increase will be 27.7% for colon cancer and 46% for rectal cancer. Routine screening currently is not recommended for those under 50.
This alarming trend must be reversed, says George Chang, M.D., the study’s principal investigator.
“Our study represents an important moment in cancer prevention,” says Chang, associate professor of Surgical Oncology and Health Services Research. “We’re observing the potential real impact of colon and rectal cancers among young people if no changes are made in public education and prevention efforts.”
The study analyzed data from more than 393,000 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1975 and 2010. Researchers examined age at diagnosis in 15-year intervals starting at age 20.
Chang and his colleagues discovered that the number of early- to late-stage colorectal cancer cases in patients under age 34 is on the rise.
He suspects lifestyle, including lack of physical activity and a diet high in calories and fat, is a possible culprit, though the exact causes of the predicted increases aren’t known.
When first diagnosed, Speck says telling her family and friends was “incredibly emotional.” It took a month to get past her “sadness factor,” but she knew she’d just have to fight through it.
“Of course, there are still moments of sadness when I’m upset or angry,” she admits. “I’ve told my friends they can expect ‘Roller Coaster Annie’ for a while. At times, it still amazes me to think this is really happening.”
In those difficult moments, Speck has found comfort and support in her parents, sister Kelly and her Delta Zeta sorority sisters.
Two weeks after being diagnosed, Speck received a special delivery in the mail from the members of her sorority: a blanket they’d made to keep her cozy during treatment. Weeks later, they surprised her with a get-well basket filled with lotions, fuzzy socks, lip balm and other goodies to get her through chemo.
“My sisters check on me daily,” she says.
Now a champion for screening and early detection, Speck strongly encouraged her father to schedule his first colonoscopy. Her mother and sister are up next.
For people of any age experiencing symptoms, Speck offers this advice: “Be in touch with your body. If something feels new or weird, please don’t wait to see the doctor.”
REDUCE YOUR RISK OF COLORECTAL CANCER
1. Get screened regularly
2. Maintain a healthy weight throughout life
3. Adopt a physically active lifestyle
4. Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources, specifically:
- Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Limit consumption of red and processed meat
- Eat at least 2. cups of vegetables and fruits each day
- Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products
5. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption
6. Consume the recommended levels of calcium, primarily through food sources
7. Avoid tobacco products
From the American Cancer Society’s Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2014-2016