Understanding Colorectal Cancer in Young Adults
Traditionally, colorectal cancer occurrences in young adults have been rare, with genetics being the main cause of the disease for those in their 30s and 40s. However, evidence shows that colorectal cancer incidences in those below 50 years of age are increasing. “Many young people today adopt more sedentary lifestyles, do not exercise enough and have high-fat, low-fibre diets, thus increasing their risks, says Dr Ganesh.
Symptoms of the disease are similar for patients of all ages, which include the following:
- Bleeding through the rectum
- Lower abdominal discomfort
- Weight loss
- A change in stool caliber
Unfortunately, since colorectal cancer is seldom suspected in younger patients, the disease tends to go unnoticed until it has reached a more advanced stage. Often, younger patients experiencing tummy aches or blood in their stools are given painkillers or are told that they have piles. “These complaints should not be dismissed without proper investigations to conclusively prove the diagnosis,” advises Dr Ganesh. “Anyone experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer is strongly advised to consult a doctor for further advice and investigation.
Screening and treatment
Since most colorectal cancers occur in the older age group, routine screening typically does not begin until age 50. However, for those with genetic risk factors or a family history of colon cancer, Dr Ganesh recommends that screening begin a decade earlier at age 40 or even in the mid-20s if the risk is very high.
Simple ways to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer
- Adopt a high-fibre diet augmented with fruit, vegetables and whole or multi-grain carbohydrates like bread and unpolished rice. Also, reduce your intake of red meat and saturated fat.
- Regular cardiovascular exercise is protective against colorectal cancer by reducing stress, improving bowel movement and reducing obesity.
- Reduce alcohol consumption to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Heavy smoking contributes greatly to the risk of colorectal cancer; hence young people should be discouraged from smoking.
“The safest and most accurate method of colorectal cancer screening is through a flexible colonoscopy, which can be done as a day surgery procedure,” he adds. “During the process, any polyps found can be removed and abnormal growths can be sampled for a proper diagnosis.
Once patients have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the chances of recovery are significantly higher if the disease is discovered in its early stages. After stage 2, the success of treatment drops significantly, with patients beyond Stage 3 of the disease having a survival rate of less than 15%. This is precisely why it is crucial for young people to undergo screening if they are at risk.
For those who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, there is some good news. “Colorectal surgeons today are using minimally invasive surgical techniques (small incisions) to treat a wide variety of colorectal problems, resulting in less pain, minimal scarring and faster recovery times,” says Dr Ganesh. “Furthermore, patients below 50 years of age have favourable survival rates since their youth and fitness allows them to better withstand treatment.”