The death of American actor Chadwick Boseman, at 43, illustrates the increase in the number of colon cancers in adults under the age of 50, which are too often diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease.
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In the United States, since 1994, the number of colorectal cancers in people under 50 has increased by 50%. This age group now represents 11% of colon cancers and 18% of rectal cancers.
The trend is similar in Europe. Researchers believe the increase is linked to environmental factors such as changes in lifestyle and diet, but the increase is still poorly understood.
“We are still losing too many young people to this disease, without really knowing the causes,” Kimmie Ng, director of a Dana-Farber center on colorectal cancer in young people in Boston, told AFP. .
The American Cancer Society recently raised the recommended age for first screening to 45, instead of 50.
Typical symptoms are diarrhea or constipation that lasts, stool that is narrower than usual, a feeling that the rectum is not completely empty after having a bowel movement, bleeding in the stool, abdominal pain or cramps. . Fatigue and weight loss can also be signs.
Such an embarrassing problem
For David Thau, the alarm signal was acute pain in the abdomen in June 2019. He then decided to go see his doctor. He was 34 years old.
He hadn’t paid much attention to the bleeding in his stool before. “I had always told myself that I was not the type to go to see doctors”, tells this political consultant, without family history, to AFP.
His doctor, thinking of appendicitis or an ulcer, then sent him to the emergency room, where a CT scan revealed the presence of a three-inch mass almost completely blocking his colon.
David had stage 3C cancer, the last before it metastasized. He was operated on a few days later to extract the tumor. Luckily for David, a small incision was enough and he didn’t need an ileostomy – a surgery to divert bowel movement and feces to an outer pocket.
But David underwent six months of chemotherapy. He also had to freeze his sperm, since chemotherapy can make him sterile. In February, doctors told him the cancer was gone, but the 30-something will need regular check-ups.
For Ghazala Siddiqui, it is a persistent constipation that decides her to go to the emergency room in Houston in March 2018. She was then 41 years old and two children.
After an x-ray, the doctors estimate that she is only suffering from severe constipation, and send her home. Ghazala had to consult a specialist for the correct diagnosis to be found: colon cancer.
23 sessions of radiation therapy followed to shrink the stage 3 tumor enough so that it could be removed by surgery.
Unlike David, she needed a collection bag. “It was very embarrassing,” says the mother, who before her diagnosis was very athletic.
After months of chemotherapy, doctors were able to tell her the good news that her bowels had recovered enough to remove the sac. In February 2019, his colon was surgically closed.
The hardest part, for Ghazala Siddiqui, was the early menopause caused by the radiation therapy, and the hot flashes, loss of libido and stress that accompany it.
Her experience prompted her four sisters to get tested. One of them then discovered polyps the size of almonds, which the doctors quickly removed.
Colorectal cancer can be cured in the vast majority of cases if it is caught early.
Colonoscopy screening is the most effective, but invasive, which turns some people off.
A painless and quick home test exists that involves scraping a stool sample with a rod, which is then sent to a lab for analysis. Kimmie Ng’s Boston center is developing next-generation, more sensitive tests to detect tumors at early stages.