Jeff, a 28-year-old avid runner and biker, was seen by me because he thought for months that his early morning runs didn’t have enough time. He had been practicing for the city marathon and hoped for a great personal record but he just couldn’t keep up the pace or mentioned the weekly mileage on the fitness app he was using.
He’d suffered from crampy stomach pain and difficulty going to the bathroom for almost a year. His gym trainer thought he was probably getting dehydrated. Throughout the day, Jeff pumped more water, supplements for men and ate a good diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, but that nagging belly pain would not go away completely.
He went to see his primary care physician, who recommended increasing the amount of fiber he consumes. He was advised he probably suffered from irritable bowel syndrome. But when he began seeing blood in his urine, he was distressed and went back to his PCP for further examination. He was sent to me for a colonoscopy to examine his symptoms (an examination using a long tube with a light source and a camera that directs the colon to explore the inside of the bowel). Shockingly, I diagnosed him with a colon cancer similar to the size of a golf ball that almost covered his rectum. Jeff has been sent to emergency surgery to remove the cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy treatment because some cancer has spread to his liver.
When I first started to practice medicine, I would never ever consider that there was colon cancer in a healthy young man with gastrointestinal problems. No way… colon cancer was an older people’s disease.
Okay, that is not the case any more. Although the risk is small, you need to be aware of a clear and worrying phenomenon. Colon cancer is actually on the rise in individuals younger than 50 years of age, especially in the rectum, the lowest part of the colon. A recent study has shown the sharpest increase in those aged 20 to 29.
Why did this happen? The drivers of colorectal cancer that starts young are not well understood. Many think the rise is due to risk factors like obesity and diabetes. Some assume that a shift in the microbiota (the special bacterial mix that exists in our bodies) or antibiotic use and dietary choices may be linked with this. We don’t really know the cause, maybe. But there is now a lot of research going into this issue.
What is the key to staying healthy? Listening to your body is really so necessary. If there is something “wrong,” and the symptoms just don’t go away, you need to get checked out. If you have any questions contact your primary care doctor. Younger patients are usually not treated in a timely manner and are therefore at risk of being diagnosed at a later stage, which is less treatable. It’s not perfect but it’s not shocking either. Why would a young man think he’s got something really bad like colon cancer happening?This often leads to an initial delay in going to the doctor. This prejudice was also practiced by physicians, too. In our radar screen, we all need the risk of colorectal cancer in younger people.
While overall rates of colorectal cancer have declined in recent years due to increased use of screening tests such as colonoscopies, these screening tests were not considered realistic for a younger population.
I still say that out of fear or shame no one should ever die. Signs you can talk to your doctor include:
- Changes in digestive patterns–such as sudden onset of diarrhea constipation
- Blood in stool
- Abdominal soreness.
- Weight loss that is unexplained
Although the probability is really high that these signs in men who are young wouldn’t indicate anything significant, we all need to be aware of the possibility of colon cancer.