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Your Healthy Family: Colorectal cancer on the rise in younger adults

Posted at 8:33 AM, Apr 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-21 08:33:17-04

Doctors say rates of colorectal cancer in younger adults are rising.

Jose Santos has struggled with the autoimmune disorder called Ulcerative Colitis for more than a decade.

"You go to the bathroom maybe 20-30 times a day, if it gets really bad. There's a lot of blood and fatigue," he said.

He said one night, he got food poisoning after ordering take out. He thought he was having a flare up of his ulcerative colitis.

"That ended up taking me to the ER because I was throwing up and just really not feeling well," Santos said.

His doctors did a colonoscopy just in case.

"The doctor came to my bedside and said 'Jose, we found a big mass in your rectal area and we think it could be cancerous,'" he said.

He was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in February 2022. He was just 37 at the time.

"And that just turned my world upside down," he said.

Symptoms of ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer are similar. But Dr. Pankaj Vashi, who treated Santos, said there are red flags to look out for.

"Blood in the stool, unexplained abdominal pain, weight loss, and any other GI symptoms that do not go away," Dr. Vashi said.

From 1995 to 2019, colorectal cancer nearly doubled in patients under the age of 55.

"Ignoring those symptoms could be very dangerous, so just get a doctor's opinion. Just get it checked it out," Dr. Vashi said.

"It's honestly the easiest thing you could do. It's only like a 15 minute procedure and it's something that's going to save your life. I mean, it did that for me," Santos said.

In some ways, Santos said he’s thankful for the food poisoning that drove him to the hospital. He was able to start treatment soon after: chemo, radiation and a surgery to remove his colon. He went into remission in September of 2022.

"I would say the last 6-7 months since my surgery have probably been the best months of my life because I have been able to actually, you could say, fly," Santos said.

Because more young people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the recommended age for your first colonoscopy is now 45 years old. If you have family history of colorectal cancer, you should get screened sooner.