Colorectal Cancer in Younger Patients Often Overlooked or Misdiagnosed

New research being presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting, in Atlanta next week, indicates that colorectal cancer may affect more young people than had been long assessed. This research, in fact, suggests that many young people could have the disease but might go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for many years. 

The research looked at data from nearly 1,200 colorectal cancer patients and survivors between the ages of 20 and 49.  Most of these patients were from the United States. The study assessed that most of the respondents (57 percent) received their diagnosis between the ages of 40 and 49; about a third received their diagnosis between the ages of 30 and 39. Only about 10 percent, the study says, received their diagnosis before reaching the age of 30. 

Now, data shows that most colorectal cancer patients who are older than 50 receive their diagnosis in the disease’s early stages. However, this new research indicates that a vast majority of younger patients and survivors—a whopping 71 percent—were diagnosed at advanced stages 3 and 4. This finding suggests, then, a need for more screening and awareness for detecting colorectal cancer at these younger ages.

As a matter of fact, the survey responses show that most of this population—63 percent—waited between 3 and 12 months before even seeing a doctor to investigate their symptoms, mostly because they did not recognize these symptoms as potentially related to cancer.  On top of this, 67 percent of these patients also said that they consulted with at least two physicians before receiving their correct diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

In light of this, lead study author Dr. Ronit Yarden comments, “It’s an overlooked population because they’re younger and usually tend to be healthy.”  Also the research and director of medical affairs with the nonprofit patient advocacy organization Colorectal Cancer Alliance patients, Dr. Yarden goes on to say, “It’s most important that people know the symptoms.”

Of course, research on younger colorectal cancer patients is sparse, so more research is needed.  These diagnoses are still rare, too, but this study certainly sheds light on a gap in our medical understanding.  As such, NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center medical oncologist Dr. Paul Oberstein—who was not involved with the study—comments, “It’s still rare…but it does happen, and for people who have signs of it—constipation, rectal bleeding, or trouble going to the bathroom—they should get evaluated for cancer.”