Colon cancer cases rise among younger people as doctors stress importance of screenings

Posted at 7:57 AM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 11:10:56-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — As the world continues to mourn the loss of actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away last week from colon cancer at the age of 43, awareness is spreading on the form of cancer and why it’s so important to get screened.

While many may consider colon cancer a disease that affects an older population, Dr. Avinash Bhakta, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer, says that’s not really the case.

“Unfortunately, there is a rise among colon cancer and rectal cancer among younger populations. It can be even in our teenage years,” said Dr. Bhakta. “I’ve had several patients coming to Markey Cancer Center in their teenage years being diagnosed with colon cancer.”

That’s why it’s important to know the signs so a person can get tested as early as possible. Dr. Bhakta says they include unintentional weight loss, blood found in the stool, and changes in bowel movements. He also says people with an average risk should start getting screened at age 45.

However, those who are at a higher risk should get screened sooner. Higher risk can be found in people with a family history of colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, like ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.

“Screening is probably the most important tool to help save lives because it can catch polyps before they become malignant and it can also treat earlier cancers as well,” said Dr. Bhakta.

Specifically in Kentucky, the Markey Cancer Center is focusing its screening efforts on certain populations, like those in Eastern Kentucky.

“Within our Commonwealth, there is a high risk of hereditary cancers, especially in our Eastern Kentucky Appalachian population, where there is a high instance of Lynch syndrome which usually causes colon cancer at earlier ages than 45,” said Dr. Bhakta.

The center is looking into what barriers affect these and other communities, like Black populations, that also put them at a higher risk for colon cancer.

With some people hesitant to visit their doctor during this time, Dr. Bhakta wants to make sure people understand that screenings save lives.

“We don’t want this pandemic to take away all the work that has been done in our Commonwealth to improve our screening rates from 49th in the nation to 16th in the nation,” he said.

If getting a colonoscopy leaves you hesitant to get screened, there are other less invasive screening options to start with.