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Reflecting on the 2017 Early Age Onset Colorectal Cancer Symposium

Posted on March 31, 2017, 11:30 AM

By: Lori Chertoff

Scientific meetings aren’t usually warm and fuzzy. And hugging is rare. What you get are fruitful conversations and an exchange of information that sparks new collaborations. But, the annual Early Age Onset Colorectal Cancer Symposium, conducted by the Colon Cancer Challenge Foundation in New York City, isn’t any other conference, and the news surrounding colorectal cancer in young adults these days is downright shocking.

colorectal blog
Dr. Thomas K. Weber, MD, FACS, Professor of Surgery, State University of New York at Downstate, President & Founder Colon Cancer Foundation (Left) and Stand Up To Cancer’s Lori Chertoff (Right).

A study, led by American Cancer Society scientists, was recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The results were astounding “compared to people born around 1950, when colorectal cancer risk was lowest, those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer.” Sadly, to the patients and doctors treating these young adults, these findings were not surprising.

Increasing awareness of young adult colorectal cancer, stressing the importance of knowing one’s family history, recognizing symptoms, advocating to change screening guidelines and to research the root causes of the increase in young adult colorectal cancer were all discussed. But, as an attendee, what was most astonishing were the stories of these young patients.

Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, was first diagnosed with stage III colon cancer a few weeks after her 17th birthday. She thought her rectal bleeding and discolored stool were caused by eating too many twizzlers. Stephen Estrada recalled crying out in pain in an emergency room and being “treated like a junkie looking for pills.” At age 28, he was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. A reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Terri Woodard, recounted stories of pregnant patients whose cancer was misdiagnosed as hemorrhoids.

Dr Weber

Young adulthood is supposed to be a time of peak productivity. Dating, maybe starting a family and establishing a career are typical. The time and peace-of-mind that cancer steals is not. In its wake, colorectal cancer brings great grief, and it’s no surprise attendees hug when they say goodbye at symposia like these. Sharing tools for coping with how cancer can change every aspect of reality—from intimacy to body image to sleep cycles—is vital. The needs of young adults are unique and with increasing rates, it is so important that the whole cancer community rally to improve quality of care—as well as quality of life.


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