Colorectal cancer is on the rise among young adults under age 50. By 2030, colon cancer cases are expected to increase by 90% in this age group. And rectal cancer cases are expected to increase by 124%.
Many of these cases are being diagnosed in later stages, when the cancer is harder to treat.
“Many young people don’t recognize colorectal cancer symptoms, don’t pay attention to them or aren’t sure what to do or who to talk to,” says Yi-Qian Nancy You, M.D, MHSc., associate professor in Surgical Oncology. “But knowing the symptoms, taking action and catching cancer as early as possible are the best ways to beat it.”
You says there are a number of common reasons why young adults avoid talking to their doctors about colorectal cancer symptoms.
Many people don’t recognize colorectal cancer symptoms
Many patients don’t recognize or simply dismiss the symptoms that may signal colorectal cancer, You says. Colorectal cancer symptoms can include:
- Rectal bleeding with or without pain
- Blood in the stool or toilet with or after a bowel movement
- A change in bowel pattern, such as increased diarrhea or constipation
- A change in the size or shape of stool
- Increased need for straining to evacuate stool
- Discomfort or urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need
- Abdominal pain or a cramping in the lower stomach
- Bloating or full feeling
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss without dieting
- Fatigue or reduced exercise stamina
See your doctor if these symptoms persist for more than two weeks.
Some people are embarrassed.
“It’s true that colorectal symptoms aren’t exactly a part of most polite conversations,” You says. “But even if it’s embarrassing or uncomfortable for you to bring up, I promise that a doctor who cares about you won’t think that it’s embarrassing.”
Doctors are used to discussing these types of symptoms, so they shouldn’t act surprised or judgmental. For them, it’s just a part of the average day.
“Once you take the first step of bringing up your concerns, make sure you have a doctor who listens and who you’re comfortable with. That will make your appointment easier,” You says.
Everyone is busy.
Many people don’t pay attention to symptoms or delay visiting the doctor because they don’t make it a priority over the other things they need to get done. Young adults have busy lives with their work, families, children, friends and many other things. But paying attention to their own health must be a priority.
While it may seem like a hassle, acknowledging symptoms early is the best way to catch cancer early or provide peace of mind if the symptoms are not related to cancer.
Many people think that cancer can’t happen to them.
“Young people often feel invincible, but we know colorectal cancer is being diagnosed more among young adults under age 50,” You says. “We don’t know exactly what is causing this increase. Some patients have a family history of colorectal cancer but others don’t. We’ve seen it in young people who have lived a very healthy life, including marathon runners and yoga teachers. Quite often we cannot pin-point exactly why someone has developed colorectal cancer as a young adult, but we have a lot of ongoing research about it.”
Sixty percent of those under age 50 who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer had no family history. While family history and obesity can increase your chances of developing colorectal cancer, they are not always present in young adults who are diagnosed.
“The truth is colorectal cancer is being increasingly diagnosed among young adults,” You says. “The best thing you can do is recognize symptoms early, take action and don’t put off talking to a doctor.”