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Colorectal Cancer: Not Just Grandma’s Disease

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Colon cancer is not only found in the older population iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Colon cancer is most often thought of as an older person’s disease. In fact, current screening guidelines for colon cancer begin at age 50 for people without a family history of the disease.

But thinking colon cancer only affects grandma or grandpa can spell danger for many young adults.

Colon cancer was once considered a rare disease for people under age 50, but since 2003, researchers have been observing a growing number of new diagnoses in young adults.

Researchers admit this is a puzzling and troubling upward trend, particularly since colon cancer rates among older people in industrialized countries have been declining since the late 1980s.

Public education campaigns and screenings are largely credited with lowering colon cancer, sometimes called bowel cancer, among older people in the United States.

But for someone in their early to mid-20s, 30s, and 40s, colon cancer is not routinely screened for and can be frequently misdiagnosed, sometimes with dire consequences.

Carol Carr of Glen Burnie, MD, was in her early 30s when she showed all the signs of colon cancer — unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, iron deficiency, and extreme fatigue — but because she was young, doctors thought the symptoms was more likely caused by the flu, anxiety, or even a brain disorder.

After a battery of treatments failed, Carr saw a specialist who ordered a colonoscopy. The outpatient test found a stage II tumor that had blocked most of her colon and had grown through her intestinal wall.

Eden Stotsky-Himelfarn, a gastrointestinal surgical nurse at Johns Hopkins says her story is similar to Carr’s. Stotsky-Himelfarn was diagnosed with Stage 3 rectal cancer at age 26 after having tried doctor after doctor, and treatment after treatment.

Online, a person named Faith posts on the Cancer Compass message board, “I had a 24-year-old daughter with colon cancer. By the time she was properly diagnosed it had spread to almost every part of her body. Too late for any type surgery. They told us it was anorexia, But boy they were WRONG. She lived 16 months after the right diagnoses, 15 months of that was chemo.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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