Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in America and the third leading cause of cancer death. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 148,000 cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and roughly 56,600 people will die from the disease.
Risk for colorectal cancer increases with age – over 90 percent of cases are diagnosed in people over 50. Family history appears to play an important role in risk for the cancer. People having a parent or sibling with the cancer have twice the risk of also developing the disease. About five percent of patients have an inherited genetic abnormality that predisposes them to polyps, growths that can develop into cancer. A personal history of colorectal cancer increases the risk of a new cancer. Other risk factors include: history of polyps, history of chronic inflammation bowel disease, a high fat diet (especially with foods mainly from animal sources), lack of exercise, obesity, and smoking.
Colorectal Cancer in Young People
Although colorectal cancer is most commonly seen in older people, it can occur at any age. Research suggests up to eight percent of cases occur in patients 40 and younger. Occurrence in adolescents and teens is very rare.
Since people tend to associate colorectal cancer with advancing age, diagnosis in young patients may be delayed. Some of the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer in younger patients include abdominal pain, stomach swelling, rectal bleeding, and unexplained weight loss. When these symptoms occur, a physician should be consulted. Once other causes have been ruled out, doctors should screen for colorectal cancer. A flexible sigmoidoscopy or sigmoidoscopy may be recommended to view the colon and look for signs of polyps or cancer.
Treatment for colorectal cancer in young people is usually similar to that used for older patients. Surgery is performed to remove the cancer and a small margin of healthy tissue. Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may also be used. The prognosis for young patients is variable. If the cancer is detected early, the chance for a successful outcome is high. However, patients are often embarrassed about their symptoms and afraid to see a doctor. That delay, coupled with an often aggressive cancer, can lead to a poor outcome. In one study, the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer patients 20 and under was only 21.4 percent.