Lindsey Reeves, R.N., MSN, CD-CES, is a 43-year-old diabetes care and education specialist in Austin who is living with Stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer. Reeves was initially diagnosed with Stage 1 at the age of 38, but she experienced a recurrence four years later as the cancer spread to her liver.
Reeves is not alone. According to the 2020 article, “Colorectal Cancer in the Adolescent and Young Adult Population” published in JCO Oncology Practice, colorectal cancer has the third-highest incidence and second-highest mortality rate of any cancer worldwide. Although incidence and mortality rates have generally been declining, “the incidence of [colorectal cancer] among the adolescent and young adult population (particularly those age 18-40 years) has shown an alarmingly opposite trend.”
Unfortunately, researchers do not yet fully understand this increase of colorectal cancer in adolescents and young adults. “Young adults often experience a more aggressive form of colorectal cancer than older adults, so often their disease is advanced when they are diagnosed,” explains Anna Capasso, M.D., Ph.D., colorectal cancer oncologist and Phase I researcher at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes of the Dell Medical School.
This is in part because young adults often have a more difficult time being diagnosed. “Those under 40 often are not being screened, so they’re not being diagnosed,” Capasso says. “Unfortunately, some assume that only older individuals can get colorectal cancer or assume there has to be a family history, which is often not the case.”
In reflecting on March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Reeves recommends that everyone:
- Be open about checking your bowel movements;
- Go to the doctor if something isn’t right, and
- Get screened if you qualify.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that everyone 45 and older gets screened for colorectal cancer. “Screening saves lives,” Capasso says. “We’re all at risk, but luckily, we have great tools.” And those with a family history of colorectal cancer or with certain medical conditions may need to be screened before 45.
In addition, those experiencing symptoms like bloody stool, weight loss, loss in appetite, fatigue, low hemoglobin, constipation, diarrhea and/or abdominal pain should consult a medical professional right away, Capasso says.
“Colorectal cancer can be prevented and is often curable,” Reeves says. “Even if you don’t have symptoms, get a colonoscopy when you are eligible. And if your doctor isn’t taking you seriously, find another doctor. Advocate for yourself.”
Reeves is a member of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ Young Adult Advisory Board. If you have been impacted by cancer and have an interest in participating on a Livestrong Cancer Institutes advisory board, email the team at CaLM@austin.utexas.edu.