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Colon Cancer Under 40: March 21, 2013

Larry Mickley leads a support group for colorectal cancer patients. And finds many of their stories mirror his own. He maintained annual physicals and following an abnormal test. Mickley underwent a colonoscopy.

“It’s the only way you’re going to be able to detect it, because there’s really no symptoms. When you get over 50 you’re supposed to go,” says Mickley.

Mickley was 66 when he was diagnosed which fits into the commonly held belief that colon cancer is an older person’s disease. But that’s changing.

“We’ve operated on people who are 27, 36 and recently in their early 40s. Early 40s are becoming common,” says Dr. Janette Gaw, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

While overall rates of colorectal cancer have been dropping since the 1980s, cases in people under 50 have been slowly, but steadily rising. The biggest increases are people in their 40s.

“They would have some bleeding and because they’re young people say, ‘you know what, it’s probably just hemorrhoids.’ But when it gets alarming enough to them, they will see a doctor and the doctor would go ‘maybe it’s hemorrhoids, let’s treat with hemorrhoid cream’ and when it doesn’t work they send them to another specialist for possible screening. And then they find the cancer,” says Dr. Gaw.

That lapse in time has consequences.

“What they found, actually the younger people present at a later stage because most of the time it takes a little bit longer before they are found,” says Dr. Gaw.

So it falls to being diligent at any age. Something Mickley constantly promotes.

“At my meeting and anytime I’m with anybody, I stress early detection. It won’t cure it, but it’s the best thing to try and beat it,” says Mickley.

“I would say that if there’s bleeding that doesn’t stop or changes in your bowl habits, any kind of change of habits at all, see your doctor,” says Dr. Gaw.

Figuring you’re too young to be affected, could add up to a serious misjudgment.