Rising number of colon, rectal cancers in millennials raising concern

- A recent study by the American Cancer Society found that young people are developing a cancer that is typically found in people twice their age.

For many, the cancer is in its later stages by the time doctors detect it. FOX 29's Joyce Evans talked to one young man, who is lucky to be alive.

Anthony Webb says he eats well and works out everyday, explaining that he likes the way it make shim feel. He's been at it since he was a teenage, and he's also happy with the way it makes him look.

As a healthy 26-year-old, he says he had never really  been sick, and never broken a bone.

All of that changed for him, and it happened practically overnight.

"Thought it was an internal hemorrhoid," Anthony explained.

The issue was causing some minor bleeding, but no pain. Confusion and fear set in, the day Anthony suddenly found himself incontinent, and he rushed over to Temple University Hospital.

A colonoscopy was set up immediately.

Now, Anthony was terrified.

"I was shocked and the doctors here were shocked because I was young, I mean 26, you don't colonoscopy at 26," Anthony explained.

At first glance the scope seems smooth and normal, but colorectal surgeon Howard Ross shows us why Anthony did not have a moment to spare.

"As the colonoscope was withdrawn or pulled out, it was in the very last part of the colon called the rectum," Ross explained, "This hard irritated lump with a central ulcer is a cancer."

It was stage 3 colon cancer. Anthony's diagnosis was scary, but he was not alone.

While is unusual and still rare, new research by the American Cancer Society is raising concern.

It found millennials, patients in their 20s and 30s, increasing in cases of colon and rectal cancer, doubling their risk for colon cancer and quadrupling the risk for rectal cancer.  

As for the reason it's happening, Dr. Ross says they don't really know.

What Dr. Ross and his Temple colleagues say they do know, is that they are treating more young people, and patients half the age that guidelines would even call for their first screening, and most had no family history, and no warning signs like Anthony.

Dr. Ross says several of these younger patients have advanced colon and rectal cancers that have already spread, and their futures are bleak.

"You can't really tell how long the lesion has been there," Dr. Ross said, "We assume it takes years for a normal polyp to turn into cancer, but he's only 26 years old. In Anthony's case he probably had a more accelerated growth pattern."

Anthony's treatment was aggressive.

"I was scared," Anthony recalled, "I did continuous chemo, I did continuous radiation and then I had my first surgery which was the removal of the tumor."

"We took out the rectum with the aid of a robot, put the colon back together," Dr. Ross explained.

"And I also had a temporary ileostomy installed," Anthony explained, describing the bag for waste located outside of his body.

Thru the pain, fatigue, other sickening side effects, and the bag, Anthony kept to his regime.

Just 6-weeks after surgery, the tumor and the bag are gone, and his colon intact.

As far as his prognosis goes, Dr. Ross says it's excellent!

However, Dr. Ross says Anthony is lucky his gastroenterologist suspected something more than hemorrhoids.

"In Anthony's case, if he didn't follow up on his bleeding, he would have died," Dr. Ross said, "He'll be followed for the rest of his life for the possibility of recurrence both local as well as distant."

"But I believe he's cured," Dr. Ross added.

Researchers say testing guidelines are not likely to be changed to include millennials, even though patients between ages 50- 55, those for whom their first colonoscopy is recommended, show a dramatic decline in colon and rectal cancers, mostly because of early detection. 

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