Young People and Colon Cancer Diagnosis

There are many things associated with growing older—just look at wrinkles and sunspots. Sometimes cancer is mistakenly lumped with ailments of the elderly, but cancer is not a disease of the old and can strike any person at any age. Although you may be less likely to get certain types of cancer as a youth, getting diagnosed with colon cancer in your 20s, 30s, and even 40s is not an unheard-of phenomenon.

In years past, colon cancer was mislabeled as an old man's disease—essentially something that could not touch you under 50 years of age. Just a brief glance at the more recent statistics shows that this is not the case. Although it is uncommon, there are instances of children as young as 15 years old receiving a diagnosis of colon cancer. There are a few specific types of cancer that occur in the younger population including leukemia, lymphoma, breast, testicular and colorectal cancers.

Concerned young man
Kondo Photography / Cultura / Getty Images

Advocate for Yourself

Most doctors will not jump to a diagnosis of colon cancer in a young adult of 25 years, regardless of your presenting symptoms. Many symptoms of colon cancer mimic other, less serious gastrointestinal problems that are much more likely. Gas, bloating, and stomach pain are common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, for instance. If you have concerning symptoms, tell your doctor—sometimes symptoms speak for themselves, such as weight loss and bloody stools—but don't readily accept a diagnosis if you don't believe it.

Typically, colon cancer screening does not start until your 50th birthday, but there are always exceptions. If you have a family history of cancer—especially colorectal cancer—talk to your doctor about getting screened sooner. The primary screening exam to rule out colon cancer is the colonoscopy, which allows the doctor to see the lining of your colon and look for any polyps or masses within. If you don't have a family history of colorectal cancer but still harbor concern, there is nothing wrong with obtaining a second opinion for peace of mind.

Developmental Impact

In our culture, it is easier to accept a diagnosis of cancer in the elderly than it is for a young adult, teen, or child. The cliché is that the older adult has already lived a full life but the youth has not. There are many facets of development to consider after a diagnosis of colon cancer, but for some young survivors who can no longer have children, fertility takes lead. During colon cancer treatment, there is a risk for both males and females of childbearing age to become infertile.

Although you should always choose the life-saving measure over the hope of someday having children, there is sometimes a way to have both. Talk to your doctor about how your prescribed treatment will affect your future fertility. If there is any question, you may want to look into sperm or egg banking prior to treatment.

New Relationships

Many survivors face the challenge of how to inform future friends, lovers, and even spouses that they have a history of cancer. Although unfounded, the fear usually surrounds different concerns of rejection:

  • Who would want me?
  • I'm damaged goods.
  • My stoma is ugly.
  • What if my cancer returns?

If one of these thoughts has crossed your mind have no fear, they are completely natural concerns as you move forward with your life. However, when these fears stop you from entering healthy relationships or living a fulfilling life it might be time to speak up. Your body has been through a change, but cancer does not change who you are as a person. Sometimes, just sharing your concerns with another survivor can help.

Moving From Cancer Fighter to Cancer Survivor

During cancer treatment mode many people function on autopilot. Your time and schedule revolve around treatment appointments, doctor's appointments, and testing. Once the treatment is finished, some people have a hard time moving out of the fighter phase and into the survivor era. The process is highly personal and no one can give you directions on how to move forward. However, if you consistently let the fear of recurrence rule your life, perhaps you are letting cancer win.

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Article Sources
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  2. NIH: National Cancer Institute. SEER explorer. Updated April 15, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorectal (colon) cancer: What should I know about screening? Updated January 30, 2019.

  4. Kumar A, Merali A, Pond GR, Zbuk K. Fertility risk discussions in young patients diagnosed with colorectal cancerCurr Oncol. 2012;19(3):155–159. doi:10.3747/co.19.942

  5. Winkler-crepaz K, Ayuandari S, Ziehr SC, Hofer S, Wildt L. Fertility preservation in cancer survivors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2015;40(2):105-18.