Colon cancer: Not just an old man’s disease

The horror series of the cancer monster continues, although some have been living with different types of it, colon cancer is still a secret. The danger is that nowadays it is spreading among young people in the thirties.
Although it is still rare, where it affects about 4 per cent of adults over the course of their lives, colorectal cancer is becoming increasingly common in young people, even with a lower incidence rate among the elderly.
The first reports of rise in the number of younger patients appeared a decade ago, when the researchers attributed the rise in colorectal cancer among young people to several factors, including high rates of obesity, malnutrition and lifestyle factors such as lack of physical activity, drinking alcohol and smoking.
Looking at various studies, colorectal cancer is more youthful arising from hereditary cancer syndromes (a genetic mutation in the cancer-causing genes) and more significantly arising in association with family history. But I should say that, there is no clear reason in the majority of young patients.
However, we observe that nowadays younger fellows are eating less fiber and are eating more processed foods than previous generations have. These are known risk factors for colorectal cancer, as well as processed and red meat.
In addition, obesity rates are climbing in younger populations, which are scary point that needs continuously alarming among our population, especially by increasing social media and general media awareness.
In addition, the most devastating thing with colorectal cancer is that young patients were often slow to recognise their own symptoms or sadly there are a lot of delays in diagnosis for young people because their doctors do not expect cancer at such young age. However, cancer is preventable if detected early, or at least the survival rate increases dramatically. For that reason, many of Cancer Societies around the world have reduced its recommended screening age for colorectal cancer from 50 to 45, as most cancers that occur before 50 are during people’s 40s.
Hence, if a person has a colon-like symptoms he has to follow up with a doctor, regardless of age. The most common symptoms in young people are the same symptom in elderly patients includes constipation, bloody stool, bleeding, bloating, diarrhea, gas, cramps and pain. A day or two of such complaints does not mean you have a colon cancer, but if it lasts for two weeks or 3 weeks definitely you should consider testing.
In fact, many young people may be simply unaware that symptoms such as rectal bleeding at a young age could be caused by colorectal cancer and almost fears having a colonoscopy, as such because it is an invasive procedure, it deters people from going to the doctor. Actually, that will be a big mistake as there are other non-invasive tests that can help and detect specific types of cancer.
Personally, I support the guideline of early screening, especially given the devastating effects of advanced cancer in young families and individuals who have just started their most productive years. I believe that you agree with me, that people should know what is normal and what can cause anxiety or frighten them in the future.
At the end, people need to understand that colon cancer isn’t only the elderly disease anymore.

Dr Yousuf Ali al Mulla, MD, Ministry of Health, is a medical innovator and educator. For any queries regarding the content of the column he can be contacted at: