Colon cancer occurring more in adults under 50

Published 6:12 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Most people shy away from discussing cancer — especially if it’s “down there.” That mentality can be fatal.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Beaufort County. More than 100,000 new cases come up every year across the nation, and 11 new cases occur each year in this county, according to the Beaufort County Health Department.

“For a couple of years prior to diagnosis, (Grandma) had complained of pain but had toughened it out. Colonoscopies weren’t very popular in the early 80s, and I do not know if Grandma or her doctor ever thought about screening,” Health Department Director Jim Madson wrote from experience in a monthly newsletter.

He continued: “What I do know is that I lost my grandma when she was still in her fifties, and today’s technology can help prevent this kind of loss I still have when I think about her.”

To help combat the effects of colorectal cancer, health officials are advocating for screenings now more than ever.

As of 2014, 72 percent of North Carolinians ages 50 and older reported having colon screenings, according to the American Cancer Society. Officials are now seeking to reach the “80% by 2018” goal.

Dr. Thomas Ruffolo, of Vidant Gastroenterology in Washington, said about 10 percent cases of colorectal cancer have occurred in patients under 50 over the past few years.

Ruffolo said this is the case in many well-developed countries, so doctors believe it may be related to diet and/or lack of exposure (thus a lack of immunity) to certain bacteria.

“There are a lot of theories,” he said. “They don’t have a definite why or why not.”

According to Ruffolo, doctors are less likely to screen a younger patient for colon cancer, and that oversight could be fatal. By the same token, patients are also more likely to ignore symptoms if they haven’t reached 50.

“Don’t dismiss it because you could be missing something,” he said. “We need to pay attention to symptoms that they may be experiencing.”

For now, regular screenings are still recommended for adults ages 50 and older, and for African-Americans ages 45 years and older, even if the patient isn’t having symptoms. Ruffolo said diagnostic testing may be required for younger patients if there are symptoms or a family history of the disease.

Ignoring symptoms or declining the recommended screenings is the equivalent to rolling a dice on one’s health, according to Ruffolo.

“The nice thing is people are talking more about it,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep the word out there.”