The good news: colon and rectal cancer rates continue to drop in people 55 and older. The bad and mysterious news: those two cancers are rising in younger generations and doctors fear the trend will continue.
At first glance, 31-year-old Kevin Hays has a picture perfect life. He has a loving family and a successful career developing real estate. However, he’s also fighting colon cancer.
“When I was first diagnosed I remember all the doctors and nurses constantly telling me ‘oh you’re too young for this, I can’t believe you’re going through colon cancer,’” Hays told Ivanhoe.
But Hays is part of a troubling trend: people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s with colorectal cancer. A recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows a sharp rise in cases among younger adults.
“A lot of people don’t put a 31-year-old face behind colon cancer,” said Hays.
According to the study, rectal cancers jumped 29 percent and colon cancers rose 17 percent in younger adults since 1990.
“There’s some thought that it has to do with the components of the western lifestyle; we’re busy with work, sedentary behaviors, changes in diet,” explained Patrick Boland, M.D., a medical oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. “I think there’s reason for us to really look at this and think about this more whether there’s another strategy we should pursue.”
Hays disagrees with the notion that someone is too young to get these cancers. If symptoms like bleeding, bloating or an unexplained weight loss appear, get checked.
Hays said, “Don’t be afraid of screening. It’s not a terrible procedure and it can really save your life.”
Hays has started a non-profit foundation to raise awareness and advocate for early detection of colorectal cancer across all age groups.