Colon Cancer in Young People – The Warning Signs

According to data provided by the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that almost 105,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer in 2020.  The colon, or large intestine, is the final part of the digestive tract. Tumors of the colon develop gradually from abnormal collections of cells that produce polyps. These are typically “silent,” meaning a person has no idea that anything is amiss. This is why colonoscopies are recommended starting at age 50, or earlier if there is a family history of bowel cancer or persistent symptoms. 

If these polyps are caught early and removed, they cannot turn into cancer. However, just like anything benign, it is still not normal and you should follow up on why you got theses abnormal growths. 

There is a trend in the last 10+ years of younger people getting colon cancer. We have seen many under 40. Among patients ages 20 to 34 years, the rates of colorectal cancers are rising. According to a study published in JAMA Surgery,  given current trends,  by the year 2030 the colon cancer rate will increase 90 percent and rectal cancer 124 percent in people 20 to 34 years old. For people ages 35 to 49, those rates are expected to go up as much as 46 percent. 

Cancer is a multifactorial disease, not just one thing causes cancer. However, I am pretty sure the standard American diet (SAD) has something to do with this. SAD is high in carbs, and meat and low in fiber from plant food. Red meat and potatoes with no veggies is the colon cancer diet. All the processed food with dyes, preservatives, and additives to name a few have increased exponentially in the last 100 years. 100 years ago, the average American consumed 5 pounds of processed sugar, today it is somewhere around 135 pounds. That’s 27 five-pound bags of sugar every year. Sugar is hidden in many processed foods.

Symptoms of colon cancer include a persistent change in bowel function, chronic abdominal discomfort (gas, bloating, pain), blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, or a feeling of incomplete evacuation. There are often no symptoms at all early on in colon cancer. This is why regular screening via colonoscopy is recommended starting at age 50.  For people with a strong family history of colon cancer or persistent symptoms, colonoscopies should start earlier. For those under 50 that have symptoms, be persistent in your pursuit of resolution. There are many things that we recommend to our patients to improve bowel function, but if it does not improve, you need to have further evaluation. Many doctors think because you are young it is not likely colon cancer and will not automatically order appropriate testing.  You need to be your own advocate.

We know the risk factors for colon cancer: inflammatory bowel conditions ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, SAD, certain genetic conditions, smoking, regular alcohol consumption, obesity, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, and a diet low in fiber and high in meat and saturated fat. The good news is that many of these risk factors are controllable.

Many times, our patients ask if we can help a family member or a friend. Our answer – “We can help them help themselves.” Our job is to teach our patients how to take care of themselves. We help you help yourself. We really stress that the only person in charge of your health is you. This takes time that your MD does not have. Our initial consult is 2 hours to evaluate where you are and connect the dots of your symptoms and explain them to you.

As naturopathic cancer specialists, we work with cancer patients as well as people seeking to minimize their risk of developing cancer. We use diet, lifestyle, targeted supplementation, botanical medicine, and mind-body medicine to help our patients optimize their health no matter their diagnosis. If you have a number of the risk factors mentioned above, call our office today to make an appointment. Prevention is always the best medicine.

Dr. Cynthia Bye, Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncologist