By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – You’re never too young to get colon cancer. But the younger you are, the more likely the diagnosis will be missed.

A new study shows that while rates of colon cancer in people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are steadily climbing, the number of younger people who don’t get the proper diagnosis is taking an ever bigger jump. And that means cases tend to be more advanced, and the cancer more likely to have spread by the time by the time the correct diagnosis is made.

The reason for the delay, and a worse prognosis, lies on both sides of the stethoscope.

Younger people seem to be delaying three months to a year before they seek medical care for new or unusual symptoms.

And yet when they do get to the doctor, it’s not unusual for the idea of colon cancer to be ignored. The study shows two-thirds of younger people wind up seeing, on average, up to three doctors before the diagnosis is finally made. Instead of investigating new symptoms that could be caused by cancer, it seems many of these younger patients are being prescribed laxatives, or told they simply have “irritable bowel syndrome” or IBS.

The symptoms of colon cancer can include constipation, a new change in bowel habits, bloating, abdominal pain or cramping, or blood in the stool. Basically anything new and out of the ordinary.

Frankly, these are symptoms that seem to shout “investigate me!” by performing tests such as a colonoscopy.

Routinely, we now generally begin screening at age 45. That’s in the average population.

But for certain groups, especially those with a family history of colon cancer, we begin at age 40… or at an age that’s ten years earlier than the age when the family member developed colon cancer. In other words says your father developed colon cancer at age 46. Then you’d want to begin screening at age 36.

The point here is that colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in America, and symptoms that point to it being present should never be ignored, no matter young or old.

Dr. Dave Hnida

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