Colon cancer rising among young people

WHILE colon cancer rates have been going down among the elderly (55 and older) since the 1980s, they are increasing among those in their 20s and 30s. This was the recent alarming finding of a US cancer registry, which reviewed nearly half a million color-rectal cancers diagnosed between 1974 and 2013, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and in the March 1, 2017 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The research shows that for colon cancers, a rate increase of 2.4 percent annually was noted for those in their 20s and 1.0 percent among those in their 30s. For rectal cancers, the yearly increase was even higher, 3.2 percent. In general, the study also found that there was an increase in the rate among adults in their 40s and early 50s, but not as bad.

This report revealed an alarming retrogression  in our battle against colorectal cancers: “that young adults’ colorectal cancer risk is now similar to that of adults born around 1890.”

The investigators pointed out that high obesity rates the past several decades “may play a role in this generation.Obesity increases the risk for all types of cancers and cardiovascular diseases, like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

The authors suggest: “Adherence to guideline-recommended screening initiation should be emphasized and initiation before age 50 years should be reconsidered.”

When CBS World News announced on February 11, 2009 that “Philippine Icon Cory Aquino Has Colon Cancer,” we wrote that “if President Cory’s cancer was diagnosed early through the recommended screening, she would have been alive today and the history of the Philippines would have been different.”

What is colon cancer?

Colon (large intestines) and rectum (reservoir for feces)  are the terminal parts of the digestive system. Cancer of the colon and rectum, or colo-rectal cancer, is the rapid uncontrolled growth of abnormal and very aggressive cells that multiply without order, causing a tumor that are malignant that destroy organs around it. The cancerous cells travel (metastasize) through the blood and lymph channels to distant parts of the body, like the liver, bones, brain, etc., ultimately killing its victim.

How prevalent is colon cancer?

Colorectal cancer ranks the second most leading cancer deaths (51,370 a year) for both men and women in the U.S., with about 142,570 patients diagnosed annually. It claims more lives than AIDS and breast cancer combined. In the Philippines, at least 8,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed yearly, “and steadily increasing,” according to the Philippine Cancer Society.

Are meat-eaters more prone to colorectal cancer?

It appears to be so, because colorectal cancer is found more prevalent in populations that low-fiber diets that are high in animal proteins, fats, and refined carbohydrates. The incidence of colorectal cancer and other forms of cancers is indeed high among those who eat red meat (pork, beef, etc.) compared to those who regularly eat high fiber diets (vegetables, fruits, wheat, bran, etc. and fish, instead of red meat.

What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?

The person may not have symptoms at all. It could be so subtle, like fatigue and anemia. Blood in the stool (black or bloody red stools) is one common sign. The others include change in the bowel habits, diarrhea or constipation, stools more slender or flatter than usual, stomach discomfort, bloating, fullness, abdominal cramps, frequent gas pains, unexplained weight loss, a sensation that the rectum does not empty completely. Not all these symptoms and signs need to be present, or necessary, to suspect possible presence colorectal cancer. Any one of these, if persistent, should alert one to seek medical help.

When should colonoscopy be done?

Looking at your stools every time you defecate is fundamental. If there is a change in the color, consistency, and shape of your stools, or if you see red blood in your stools, or if is black, report this to your physician, since blood in the stools is one of the earliest signs of colon cancer, no matter how young. He/she may order a test for occult blood even if the color of your stool is normal, which is recommended annually for those 50 and older, together with flexible fiber-optic colonoscopy every 3 to 5 years. These are life-saving test and procedures, great gifts of medical science, which each of us should take advantage of. If colon cancer is in the family history, screening must be done even before 40.

How can we prevent cancer?

Cancer in general is caused, in almost all cases, by what we eat and drink, what we breathe in, what we apply to our body, what we expose ourselves to in our environment, by our personal behavior, and to some extent by our individual genetic predisposition. As far as our genes are concerned, we did not choose them, but we can choose to protect our DNA from harm every day of our life through healthy lifestyle and behavior.

Here are some basic guides: (1) Minimize or avoid eating red meat. Instead, have a regular diet of fish, lots of vegetables, nuts, whole grains, some fruits, and partake rice, bread, and other carbohydrates in moderation. For those who are overweight, abstaining from rice, soft drinks, cakes, ice cream, and other sweets is most effective in preventing obesity, which is a risk factor for cancer. Soft drinks are all hazardous to health as they increase the risk for Metabolic Syndrome. (2) Do daily physical exercises, which is a magic bullet against diabetes, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. They also improve stamina, agility, mental health, and even sexual performance. (3) Take daily multivitamins and minerals if not eating properly, but avoid mega-doses as they are toxic to the body. (4) Listen to your body, and consult your physician promptly for any health concerns, and do not put off any recommended laboratory tests and procedures, like stool exam, colonoscopy, etc., since early detection can save lives. (5) Stay away from tobacco and from secondhand smoke, which is even more toxic. (6) If you enjoy alcoholic drinks, imbibe in moderation, preferably with dinner; excess alcohol increases the risk for cancer, burns the liver and cooks the brain. (7) Overall, live and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA,  a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. For more data, visit; Email:

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One thought on “Colon cancer rising among young people

  1. Yes, colon cancer is rising among young people. My brother is also suffering from colon cancer. He was suffering from severe pain in his lower abdomen and constant bleeding in his stools. He went through the surgery and best radiation therapy( Now, he is having constant anxiety regarding the radiation side effects of the treatments.

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