A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed both good and bad news regarding new cases of colorectal cancer.
While rates are declining in people above the age of 50, doctors are seeing more cases annually in young adults.
Barkley Booker is sitting pretty, now cured of rectal cancer. However, her journey to this point came as a surprise. About three years ago, she noticed rectal bleeding and immediately called her doctor. A colonoscopy revealed a five-centimeter tumor.
"I was 37 at the time, so no one thought going into this that cancer was going to be the diagnosis," Booker recalled.
Traditionally, a disease that affects people over age 50, the study showed that the overall rate of colorectal cancer declined about 1 percent between between 1975 and 2010. But, incidence rates increased for patients 20 to 49 years old, with the biggest increase of nearly 2 percent in patients 20 to 34 years old. Those patients were also more likely to present with a more advanced stage of the disease.
"It's often these more regional or disease states that have spread to other organs, which are much more difficult to treat," said Dr. Kelly Finan, a colorectal surgeon at Our Lady of the Lake. "So, is that because people ignore the signs and symptoms because they don't think they're in the age range? Or it's a more aggressive disease? You just don't want to ignore that."
Dr. Finan was instrumental in Booker's treatment through Mary Bird Perkins - Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center.
Symptoms to watch for include any rectal bleeding, a change in bowel function, abnormal weight loss and abdominal pain. Finan points out that many conditions can cause those symptoms, meaning a doctor must make the call.
"They are predicting almost a doubling of the number of patients in the 20 to 35 year old age range that will have colorectal cancer by 2030, so I think if you have any signs or symptoms, you definitely want to get them evaluated," she added.
Booker had two beautiful motivating factors in her two young daughters. She endured three surgeries, chemo and radiation to beat her stage-three disease. She now uses her story to encourage others to take control of their health.
"I think a lot of people don't want to know. 'It couldn't be that.' You make all sorts of wonderful excuses to avoid it, but you just have to get over it. And I promise, chemo, radiation and surgery is a lot worse than a colonoscopy or getting checked out by a doctor," Booker explained.
She considers 2015 to be a gift she may not have gotten had she not listened to her body.
CRC is the third most common cancer among men and women, with an estimated 142,820 new cases and an estimated 50,830 deaths in the United States in 2013, according to JAMA.
Regular screenings for colorectal cancer are still recommended to begin at age 50 for those at average risk, with a colonoscopy every 10 years as the preferred method. Finan now advises all adults to watch for symptoms at an earlier age.
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