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Colorectal Cancer Doesn’t Care About Your Age

Colorectal cancer is becoming more common in people younger than the age of 50. By 2030, health experts predict that colorectal cancer will lead the highest cancer deaths for people ages 20 - 49. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time to highlight the importance of proper screening, as well as to promote  healthy lifestyle habits that can decrease a person’s risk of developing the disease.

Symptoms & Spreading Awareness  

“Colorectal cancer is called the ‘silent  killer’ because it often does not have any noticeable symptoms in the initial stages, which leads to delayed detection after the disease has reached advanced stages,” says  Dr. Lorenc Malellari, Colorectal Surgeon at Dignity Health Mercy & Memorial Hospitals.  

The most common symptoms include blood in the stool, abdominal cramping, fatigue, and weight loss. Patients may also notice changes in the shape and frequency of bowel movements. 

The disease is more common than most people realize. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. and accounts for the second most cancer related deaths  for men and women. In recent years, there has also been an alarming uptick in the number of patients diagnosed under the age of 50. 

“The most important thing younger patients can do is remain aware of your body and notice any changes. The second thing is to not ignore these changes or symptoms and talk to your doctor. Getting screened for colorectal cancer is important regardless of age,” says Dr. Malellari. 

Experts say prevention is key 

The most effective tool to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is to get screened routinely, beginning at age 45. The colonoscopy remains the gold standard  for detecting colorectal cancer, but many  people put off this potentially life saving exam out of fear.  

“Most concerns that patients have when  they hear the word colonoscopy are myths  and misconceptions,” says Dr. Malellari.  “Once we discuss the specifics of the  procedure their anxieties are usually put to ease and afterwards most people say it wasn’t as bad as they initially thought it was going to be.”  

During the procedure, a doctor inserts a  flexible tube with a light and camera on the end through the rectum to examine the colon. The tube allows the doctor to  remove any polyps (small growths on the  surface of the colon or rectum) that may  be precancerous. Other forms of screening  include a stool test, such as Cologuard,  that can detect abnormal DNA strands in  fecal matter, or a Fecal Immunochemical  Test (FIT) which uses antibodies to detect  blood in the stool. 

Treatment Techniques & Risk Factors

If you do receive a diagnosis of colorectal cancer, there are many advanced treatment options. The most common include surgery to remove the cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation.  

“From minimally invasive procedures to robotic surgery options and use of newer medications like immunotherapy, we have more tools than ever before at our disposal,” says Dr. Malellari. “Our surgical experts at the S.A. Camp Companies Robotic Surgical Center at Mercy Hospitals  provide patients with robotic surgical procedures - giving them faster recoveries, reduced pain, and exceptional outcomes.” 

The S.A. Camp Companies Robotic Surgical Center earned nationally-recognized Center of Excellence and Surgeon of Excellence designations from Surgical Review Corporation (SRC) under Dr. Malellari’s leadership. Dr. Malellari received Master Surgeon designation from SRC for both colorectal and robotic surgery, signifying that Dr. Malellari is a highly skilled and experienced surgeon who has undergone a rigorous accreditation process. 

A cancer diagnosis can be a very traumatizing experience for cancer patients. That’s why Dr. Malellari and our surgical teams are committed to providing exceptional patient care and advancing surgical treatment options. 

There are many risk factors for colorectal cancer that are out of your control, such  as: age, race, and family history. While you  can’t change genetics, it may be possible  to lower your risk by addressing things you  can change, like adopting a healthy diet, increasing fiber intake, losing weight, or quitting smoking. Above all, experts say to pay attention to your body. 

“If something seems off, contact your doctor right away so you can get evaluated. The worst thing you can do is ignore the symptoms.”