Know the signs: Age trending younger for colorectal cancer

During this National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a local man is sharing his story of survival after suffering symptoms in his 30s.

Doctors say it's affecting younger people these days and encourage you to get screened earlier than you may realize.

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Brian Amis’ life was turned upside when he started suffering from symptoms of colorectal cancer when he was only 39 years old.

"Like a lot of folks, my first inclination was just to ignore them and hope that it went away," admits Brian.

That's the reaction of a lot of people when it comes to this type of cancer.

"Forty percent of patients have a delay of six months or more in their diagnosis, just because they are hesitant to bring up these symptoms, hesitant to talk to their doctors and really advocate for the type of tests that they need," says Dr. Scott Kopetz, Professor of GI Medical Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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That's because symptoms are something many people often like to keep private and are embarrassed to talk to their doctors about, but Dr. Kopetz encourages everyone to reconsider that and to quickly seek help.

Brian's journey took him to MD Anderson and Dr. Kopetz, who shares this advice: "If you see any blood in your stools or a change in the color of your stools, that is a sign that further evaluation is needed. I think one of the most common things is attributing it to hemorrhoids, but I really encourage even young patients to have that further evaluated. More broadly, any change in your bowel habits, really should prompt further evaluation," says Dr. Kopetz.

Once Brian got up the courage to see his doctor, he underwent a colonoscopy. Doctors can often remove any pre-cancerous polyps right then to prevent cancer, but Brian's problem was too far advanced for that treatment.

"As soon as I woke up, I saw the doctor's face and heard the tone of his voice, I knew it wasn't good," says Brian.

Brian is relieved that he was able to receive top-of-the-line care to help spare his life.

"That's one of the advantages of living in a city like Houston and having access to major research hospitals like MD Anderson. When I went in, and the doctors had gone over everything and came up with a treatment plan. They also sat me down and said hey, here's where it looks like the direction colon cancer treatment may be going in the next few years, and they had options for a couple of different trials," explains Brian. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy but skipped radiation in the trial.

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Dr. Kopetz urges everyone to be on the look-out for symptoms and then schedule a colonoscopy by 45 years old.

"In the past 25 years, we've seen the number of early-onset colorectal cancer patients increase by more than 50%, and it's expected over the next decade to double beyond where we are now," states Dr. Koptez.

It's not always genetics that prompts colorectal cancer.  Dr. Kopetz says a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of exercise, fresh vegetables, and a healthy weight can help lower the risks. Brian has made changes to prevent cancer from coming back.

"With by my wife's help, we did the half marathon in January of last year, right before all the COVID stuff happened. That was my first time doing a half marathon, but I've certainly tried to incorporate lifestyle changes to not just reduce the risk of cancer that is certainly at the front of my mind, but to be healthier overall," smiles Brian.

It’s working! He has been cancer-free more than four years!

Again, the latest recommendation is 45 years old for your first screening, if you don't have symptoms before that. Doctors no longer want you to put it off until you're 50, since the age is trending younger for colon cancer.

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