PHILADELPHIA—Colorectal cancer cases have dropped significantly in the United States over the last decade, but one group continues to see an uptick: young adults. Every year since 1992, the number of people under 50 diagnosed with the disease has increased by 2 percent.
At just 25, Jessica Nixon from Conshohocken, Pa., was diagnosed with rectal cancer, after severe stomach cramps and constipation for six months took her to the doctor. Later, a colonoscopy revealed stage III cancer, and after six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, Jessica had colon resection surgery to remove the shrunken tumor and that was six years ago. The cancer eventually spread and showed up in her liver and lungs, and she had to undergo further surgery last year and chemotherapy, which she still endures today to keep the cancer at bay.
“We’re seeing a growing trend of more colorectal cancer patients under 50, some even under 40," said Scott D. Goldstein, MD, Director of the Division of Colorectal Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “Screening isn’t recommended until age 50, so many of these cases aren’t caught early. The problem is the younger they are, the more likely they are to ignore symptoms of more advanced stages of the disease. Who thinks they have colon cancer at 40, 35 or even 25?"
Jessica certainly didn’t.
“I was definitely shocked when I found out," said Jessica, now 30, and a patient of Dr. Goldstein and medical oncologist Edith P. Mitchell, MD, FACP, of Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center (KCC). “But I am living with it, and I am fighting it. Even though this is a chronic disease for me in many ways, I have a pretty normal life: I work and travel. That’s the reason I am doing it, to have my life."