Last spring, Baltimore Orioles star Trey Mancini shared that he was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer at age 28. His doctors were able to remove his tumor less than two weeks after it was found, and then he started chemotherapy a month later. Nearly a year later, Mancini has just returned to the field cancer-free.
Mancini’s Symptoms and Treatment
The MLB pro shared that he didn’t have any “typical” symptoms of colon cancer, aside from feeling more lethargic than usual. His initial blood tests showed only low iron levels. After speaking to his doctors and undergoing further testing, including an endoscopy and colonoscopy, a tumor was found in his colon.
The tumor was removed during surgery and then Mancini began chemotherapy treatment. His treatment plan has been successful so far, as he was able to return to the Orioles recently for their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates where he was given a round-of-applause welcome from the players and fans.
Mancini said he is lucky and credited the team’s resources and support for physicians being able to detect his tumor early.
Colon Cancer in Younger Adults
Though the trend is too recent to be ironclad, it appears that “colon cancer is seeing a slow but steady upswing among people in their 20s, 30s and 40s,” explains AdventHealth colorectal surgeon Sudhir Kalaskar, MD .
It can be particularly devastating for younger patients, like Mancini, because it is so unexpected. Routine screening for the disease in healthy people — which can find colon cancer before symptoms appear — does not typically begin until age 45.
And when symptoms appear in young people, they are sometimes written off as something else, so the cancer progresses without treatment. But, as new discoveries change these attitudes, doctors are paying more attention to the possibility of colon cancer among younger patients.
At AdventHealth, we're eager to help younger patients take extra steps to protect themselves from colon cancer. “Not every case of colon cancer can be prevented, but younger adults can take steps to be informed and stay on top of their health,” says Dr. Kalaskar.
Be Vigilant About Symptoms
Always start with a conversation with your doctor about any potential symptoms so you can work together to rule out the worst-case scenario. Watch for the following:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss
One of the reasons colon cancer is often discovered later in young people is that both they and their doctors may assume symptoms are caused by a more common problem.
The best way to take this advice is to develop a relationship with a primary care provider . Some people find it embarrassing to talk about their digestive symptoms; having a doctor you trust can make that conversation easier.
Keep an Eye on Risk Factors
Like smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer, there are behaviors and habits that can predispose someone to develop colon cancer. Some recommendations include:
- Don't smoke
- Eat a high-fiber diet
- Exercise (at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week for most adults)
- Keep weight under control
- Limit use of alcohol
- Minimize processed meat and processed foods
Unfortunately, one of the mysteries of the increase in colon cancer risk for young adults is there is not a clear association with an established risk factor.
There are a few theories out there, like eating more processed foods. But no matter what's causing the recent increase in this form of cancer in younger patients, taking these steps now and making them habits will help protect you from the illness as an older adult.
Be Proactive, But Don't Panic
One study found the risk of colon cancer for adults born in 1990 is twice that of an adult born in 1950. But two times a small risk is still a small risk.
“Even though colon cancer incidence is increasing in the younger population, it's still relatively rare in the sense that the majority of colon cancers are diagnosed in patients in their 50s and 60s,” says Dr. Kalaskar. Nine in 10 cases still occur in people older than 50. Most abdominal symptoms, though, have nothing to do with colon cancer.
If you have risk factors for colon cancer, you may need to start testing before age 45. Mancini’s father being a colon cancer survivor could be a factor in his diagnosis at a young age.
“If you have risk factors for colon cancer, such as a family history, it’s important to have a discussion with your primary care doctor or a specialist well before age 45 about what screening protocol is best for your personal health and comfort level,” Dr. Kalaskar advises.
Schedule Your Screening Today
Early detection is key to safeguarding your well-being for years to come. Schedule your screening today to help protect your whole health.