Colorectal cancer deaths rising among young adults under 50, study says

HOUSTON — According to a new study from the American Cancer Society, colon and rectal cancer deaths are rising for young adults, under the age of 50— just when you're supposed to start getting screenings.

Medical oncologist Dr. Shagufta Naqvi said a person's likelihood of developing the disease is more complicated than just their age.

"50 is for those patients who have no family history, no risk factors, feeling absolutely fine, no constipation, no blood in stool-- then it's okay. But if you have a family history of colon cancer, if you are having any symptoms like iron deficiency, anemia or anything of those things, then 50 is not really the age. Those patients should be getting tested and diagnosed even earlier," Dr. Naqvi said.

In fact, data from the National Cancer Institute shows that the increase in colorectal cancer deaths over a 45-year study period is confined to whites. African Americans on the other hand, actually saw a slight decline in those death rates over the same period.

"If they are a candidate for genetic testing, because unfortunately patients who have a gene for cancer, they can have it as young as 18 years old," Dr. Naqvi said.

But the most alarming part? The study can't pinpoint why more people are getting diagnosed.

"Usually when young people get these symptoms, they aren't thinking colon or rectal cancer, so usually by the time it's diagnosed, the cancer has already accelerated to a later stage. If patients are diagnosed at Stage IV, then they maybe have about three years to live and that's why the mortality rates for younger people diagnosed with colon cancer is much higher," Dr. Naqvi said.

Cancer sucks. It's something we can all agree on.

To minimize your risk, Dr. Naqvi said it's best to be proactive and get your screenings done early.