Colorectal cancer deaths rising among young people

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Danielle Ripley-Burgess is a two-time survivor of colorectal cancer. (Image via Danielle Ripley-Burgess)

It’s estimated one out of every 20 people will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. If that number isn’t startling enough, a new study finds this may become the No. 1 cancer-related death for younger people.

The problem? The disease often goes undiagnosed until it’s too late.

Danielle Ripley-Burgess hid her symptoms for a long time.

“I was probably in eighth grade when I started seeing blood in the stool, and it got worse and worse.”

She finally spoke up at 17, and despite her age, her doctor didn’t rule out colorectal cancer.

“I showed up, 17 years old, with rectal bleeding, and my GI didn’t hesitate to say, ‘Well, she needs a colonoscopy ASAP,'” she said.

“I look back and think his decision helped save my life.”

Most young colorectal patients aren’t so fortunate – and the delay can be deadly.

“It really lights a fire under me, because this is a preventable cancer,” Ripley-Burgess said.

“It’s a nasty disease, especially when you catch it late. And so I wish it works that way – younger, healthier people can have a better chance at survivorship. But that’s just not exactly been what we see.”

New research finds youth is no longer something doctors should overlook when it comes to colorectal cancer.

“It’s often misdiagnosed for so long, a lot of early age onset patients are diagnosed at a later stage when the disease is much more difficult to treat,” said Molly McDonnell, Fight Colorectal Cancer’s director of advocacy.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association predicts it will be the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for people ages 20 to 49 in less than a decade.

“It’s often looked at as something that is kind of an old man’s disease. And clearly, that’s not the case anymore,” McDonnell said.

“This is just probably the starkest indication that we’ve had to date that more and more young people are getting colorectal cancer, and that we have to do more.”

McDonnel said research into why this is happening and how to stop it needs funding now. Her group said the Department of Defense can get it done.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the Department of Defense does medical research as well, but they conduct a lot of medical research through their congressionally directed medical research program.”

The group is asking for $20 million for colorectal cancer research that could answer questions, like those Ripley-Burgess has, and save lives.

“Why did I get cancer so young? And what’s going on? And what can I do so that this doesn’t happen again?”

Colorectal cancer symptoms include blood in your stool, persistent abdominal discomfort like cramps, gas or pain, or unexplained weight loss.

It can be diagnosed with a colonoscopy or a stool-based test you can do at home.

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