We know that, unlike for those over age 50, colon cancer is on the rise in those younger than 50. Too often we hear stories from folks in this group who are facing additional screening and diagnosis hurdles due to their age. The signs and symptoms of colon can often be mistaken for other, less serious issues, and time and time again folks under age 50 are being faced with misdiagnoses and untimely diagnoses because their symptoms are not being taken seriously due to age.[caption id="attachment_2766" align="alignright" width="294"] Dawn Eicher is a stage IV colon cancer survivor diagnosed at age 36.[/caption]
People like Dawn Eicher, a stage IV colon cancer survivor who was diagnosed at 36 after several years of misdiagnosis, are starting to speak out. Dawn is sharing her story, including her years-long struggle, to be heard by the primary care community in hopes that doctors will stop disregarding symptomatic patients simply because they’re “too young for colon cancer.”
A Call-to-Action for PCPs
We are committed to providing a voice to survivors like Dawn by bringing greater awareness to young onset colon cancer, especially to the primary care community, through our Never Too Young campaign. Primary care physicians (PCPs) have an important opportunity to improve detection of colon cancer in younger populations. We’re urging the medical community to perform individualized colon cancer risk assessments, regardless of age. This paves the way for earlier targeted screenings, preventive surgeries and risk modifications and lifestyle changes. PCPs may also improve time of diagnosis, disease stage at diagnosis and outcome by quickly and thoroughly evaluating symptoms consistent with colon cancer and aggressively pursuing diagnostic colonoscopies for people who are at a high risk or are showing symptoms, regardless of age. This will help ensure a potential diagnosis is not missed or delayed.
What is High Risk?
Research has shown people with certain risk factors have a higher chance of developing colon cancer under age 50. Pay attention to your body and if you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor – take charge of your health!
- Family history of colon cancer or polyps: First and second degree relatives of a person with a history of colon cancer and polyps are more likely to develop this disease, especially if the relative had the cancer at a young age.
- Genetic Alterations: Changes in certain genes increase your risk of colon cancer. Those with syndromes like hereditary nonployposis colon cancer (HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome) or Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) should be screened earlier than 50.
- Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease
- African Americans should be screened starting at age 45, or sooner if you have other risk factors or symptoms
- Other lifestyle factors, like obesity and diabetes
Insurance as a Barrier to Screening
We know, in addition to being disregarded due to age, health insurance also proves to be a barrier to screening for the under 50 community. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends screening starting at age 50, and due to this recommendation, the Affordable Care Act covers preventive colon cancer screening starting at that age. However, it's vitally important to know your family history as well as the risk factors for colon cancer. If you are considered a high risk patient, some insurance providers will cover the cost of the procedure, regardless of your age. Unfortunately this is not the case for many Americans younger than age 50. The cost of a colonoscopy can be a struggle for a patient at any age, especially to those who are uninsured or underinsured. That’s why we started our Blue Hope Prevention Award.
What We’re Doing
We take the needs of the under 50 community seriously and are working to meet them through our education, prevention and patient empowerment programs.
- The Blue Hope Prevention Award provides financial assistance for those uninsured or underinsured who are in need of lifesaving screening.
- The 2015 Blue Hope Research Award in will be presented in April to a scientist whose work is focused on why we are seeing an increase in young-onset colon cancer and how we can go on the offensive.
- The Never Too Young Coalition and campaign are putting young-onset colon cancer on the map through upcoming events, webinars, research and more.
- The Blue Note Fund provides financial grants to colon cancer patients in need.
- The Buddy Program and free Helpline provide support to patients, family members or anyone with questions about colon cancer and screening. Reach out to us!
Learn more about our Never Too Young efforts at nevertooyoung.org . And don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.