By Jennifer Bringle
When actor Chadwick Boseman passed away after a private years-long battle with colon cancer, people were understandably shocked. The “Black Panther” star was only 43 years old, well under the typical age that patients develop the disease.
But according to Melissa Zoumberos, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon at Mission Surgery, more young people are being diagnosed with colon cancer. “There is an increase in younger people, and I can say anecdotally I have seen that over the last couple of years in my patients,” she said.
Updated Screening Guidelines
In fact, in 2018 the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons along with the American Cancer Society lowered the age for first colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45 for those with no genetic predisposition to the disease. “The new guidelines are based on this younger population we’re seeing with colon cancer,” said Zoumberos.
And for those who do have a genetic predisposition or family history of colon cancer, the guidelines are to receive the first screening at age 45 or 10 years before the age of their youngest relative’s diagnosis.
Screenings via colonoscopy are important because the symptoms of colon cancer often don’t show up until the disease has advanced. “The thing about colon cancer is it can be insidious in that it’s not very symptomatic,” said Zoumberos. She said some of the common symptoms are gastrointestinal bleeding, dark stools, weight loss, fatigue and anemia.
It’s critical to listen to your body and get screened, even if you’re young, recommended Zoumberos. “From speaking to patients, especially young patients, they are surprised,” she said. “Do not ignore symptoms and be an advocate for yourself. Just because you’re under the age of 50 doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”
Melissa Zoumberos, MD, is a colon and rectal surgeon at Mission Health.