Colon Cancer Cases Rising Amongst Younger People
- Kacie Peters and Erik Stanley, 35 and 41 respectively, are a young couple with a 5-year-old son. Now, they’re both battling stage four colon cancer and warning others about the rises cases in younger people.
- The term colorectal cancer is used to describe cancers that begin in the colon or the rectum – so some people just use the term colon cancer if that’s where the disease began.
- Colorectal cancer screenings have made a big difference in colorectal cancer prevention. But with colorectal cancer cases in younger people on the rise, the recommended age for beginning screening has been moved from 50 to 45.
- There are many factors to consider when deciding on the right course of treatment for stage four colon cancer. Oftentimes, treatment might include chemotherapy alone, but some cases will require chemotherapy and surgery. Additionally, your doctor should also explain any newer therapies or clinical trials in case those are the best fit. Make sure to ask your oncologist about all of your options.
Kacie Peters and Erik Stanley are 35 and 41 respectively with a 5-year-old son. Peters was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in January 2020 after suffering from abdominal pain and severe nausea. It progressed to stage four by July 2021.Read More
“After seeing her go through it, and I talked away the own signs of mine,” Stanley said. “I would hope people would be better advocates for their health than I was.”
Now, as they fight colon cancer together, the couple wants to educate others about the disease and its symptoms. And according to Peters, there needs to be a greater recognition amongst doctors that these colon cancer cases are rising amongst younger people.
“Typically it takes about a year for someone under 40 to get diagnosed with colon cancer, and that is not for a lack of trying,” Peters said. “It is for lack of doctors understanding that this happens.
“We don’t get it caught at the polyp stage… We don’t get it caught in the very early tumor stage.”
Peters is also advocating for the recommended screening age to be lowered below 45. In the meantime, she wants others to take their health seriously, make sure they have a primary care physician and address any concerns immediately with a doctor – or two.
“If you find that something is wrong and you feel the doctor isn’t taking you seriously, it is OK to get a second opinion,” she said.
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
The term colorectal cancer is used to describe cancers that begin in the colon or the rectum – so some people just use the term colon cancer if that’s where the disease began. The cancer develops when abnormal lumps called polyps grow in the colon or rectum. It takes up to 10 years for a colon polyp to actually become cancer, according to SurvivorNet experts.
Colorectal cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Dr. Yeo also emphasizes the importance of colorectal cancer screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo says. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Even still, colorectal cancer cases are rising among younger people. And in the United States alone, rates have increased every year from 2011 to 2016 by 2 percent among people younger than 50. Because of this increase, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated its colorectal cancer screening recommendations to begin at age 45 instead of 50.
“We know that colon cancers can be prevented when polyps are found early,” Dr. Yeo said. “Lowering the screening age helps somewhat with this. But access to care is a real problem.”
And increasing access is crucial to making sure that we don’t see racial disparities within the world of colorectal cancer. Whites and Asians are significantly more likely to be up to date with their colonoscopies than African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
Research suggests that tailoring colon cancer screenings to each person’s individual risk may be beneficial. If you are not yet 45 but have concerns about your risk, talk to your doctor. Ask about your individual risk based on your lifestyle and family history and find out when screenings would be right for you.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Colon cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but there are signs to look out for.
Below are possible symptoms:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
It is important to note, however, that displaying some of these symptoms does not mean you have colon cancer. You could also have colon cancer and not display any of these symptoms. Regardless, it is important to bring up any symptoms to your doctor should they arise.
Treatment for Stage Four Colon Cancer
Receiving the diagnosis of stage four colon cancer, or metastatic colon cancer, means that the tumor has spread outside the colon. Treatment for this stage colon cancer often includes chemotherapy alone, but select cases require a combination of chemotherapy and surgery depending on the patient, tumor properties and where exactly the cancer has spread.
“The overall view of treating metastatic colon cancer is that most of those patients can not proceed to surgery, and so their cancer can never be removed entirely,” Dr. Paul Oberstein, a medical oncologist with NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet. “So they’re going to live for the rest of their life with their cancer, and we’re going to be their partners in giving therapy, or other experimental treatments that will control their cancer for as long as possible with the fewest side effects as possible.”
The goal of treatment at this stage is to control the cancer, prevent it from growing or spreading and shrink it. Once the cancer is “under control,” the phase of treatment called maintenance therapy generally begins. Over time, chemotherapy drugs might need to be switched if the cancer mutates or changes or the patient simply needs a break from the drugs.
“So then the next step is to maintain it so that the tumor doesn’t grow, the person can continue living their life, and have reduced side effects compared to very aggressive chemotherapy.,” Dr. Oberstein said.
Another treatment route to consider is with “novel therapies or experimental therapies or clinical trials.”
“We emphasize to patients that that’s something that we as oncologists are always considering,” Dr. Oberstein explained. “So that if at a certain point, a novel therapy comes out, if someone makes an announcement, or we do a clinical trial, and we demonstrate that a new therapy is effective for colon cancer, that’s something that potentially will help that person during their course of their disease.”
No matter what, there are many factors to consider when deciding on the right course of treatment. Make sure you talk with your doctor about all your options if you or a loved one is faced with stage four colon cancer.