Roanoke doctor seeing more cases of colon cancer in young adults; warns of dangers of ignoring symptoms


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Many people around the country are mourning the death of “Black Panther” and “42” star, Chadwick Boseman, who died last Friday at the age of 43 following a four-year battle with colon cancer.

Doctors say they are concerned because the number of young patients they are treating for the deadly disease is rapidly growing. Now, the American Cancer Society (ACS) is recommending adults get screened sooner.

Health officials suggest adults get tested as early as 45 years old. However, the suggested age used to be 50 years old and older.

According to ACS, over the last 10 years, the number of people younger than 50 years old being diagnosed with colorectal cancer has been increasing by two percent every year.

A colon and rectal surgeon, Dr. Farrell Adkins, with Carillion Roanoke Memorial Hospital believes younger people can have fewer symptoms and can experience them for longer periods of time. In many cases, those symptoms are either ignored by the patient or even overlooked by another medical professional.

Colon cancer can be a relatively slow growing cancer that develops over the course of months or — in some circumstances — years.

Dr. Adkins recommends younger people to be mindful of symptoms and address them immediately because the timing can make a difference in the outcome.

“They may not have other health problems. They may think of themselves as being very healthy,” he said. “So when symptoms do occur, they may be ignored either by the patient themselves or by their healthcare providers. The earlier and faster we can make a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, the earlier treatment can be initiated and the better outcomes will be.”

According to Dr. Adkins, Carillion Roanoke Memorial Hospital treats up to 250 new patients diagnosed with colon cancer annually.

The disease can be preventable, but the most important thing people can do is go through the appropriate screening.

Dr. Adkins says there are a few different options for testing.

He encourages people to go in for a colonoscopy procedure where polyps or growths can be detected and removed. Patients can also submit a stool sample.

“Patients should not be embarrassed or think that this is something that’s just normal for them, especially if symptoms have been going on for an extended period of time,” Dr. Adkins said. “They should always feel comfortable speaking to a physician or their medical provider.”

Warning signs of colon cancer, include:

  • Bleeding in stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unusual changes in bowel movements
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Strong family history

According to the ACS, between 140,000 and 150,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colon cancer every year. In addition, 20,000 to 50,000 people around the country die each year from this form of cancer.

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