CONNECTICUT, USA — If you think you're too young to get colorectal cancer, think again.
Numbers from the American Cancer Society spell out the troubling trend. Cases in people under 50 have been climbing steadily for years and more are dying from the disease each year.
The reality hits close to home for Erik Lecomte of Monroe. At 34, his focus was on work.
"At that point in time, career. Everything was work, work, work, work, work. At times, yeah, things with my health, I kind of put them aside," said Lecomte.
However, putting health aside eventually became hard to do.
"Appetite came down a little bit, and I actually found myself losing a little bit of weight," said Lecomte.
Those signs led Lecomte to get a colonoscopy. The results revealed a different kind of work he would have to do.
"When I got the results, they were pretty shocking, that I did have advanced precancer and had I not gotten screened when I did, I would have had full-blown colon cancer at the age of 34," said Lecomte.
Lecomte's story is just one highlighting an alarming trend: cases of colorectal cancer are on the rise in people under 50.
Colorectal cancer includes cancers found in the colon and rectum, which make up the large intestine. Most start as an abnormal tissue growth, called a polyp. Over time, those polyps can develop into cancer.
"It's not just your run-of-the-mill colon cancer. It's extremely hard to diagnose and when you look at it as we do in terms of hard science, what do the genes look like, it's a very unusual-looking tumor," said Dr. Joel Levine, with UConn Health's Colon Cancer Prevention Program.
Just as alarming: numbers from the American Cancer Society show rates of advanced disease among younger people are also up.
"Most of the people who come in, come in with stage three and stage four colon cancer. Now we don't know whether or not that's because the natural history is compressed and it's aggressive or people wait a long time," said Dr. Levine.
Another big unknown is what exactly is driving the rise in cases among younger people. However, Dr. Levine said there is an association between a patient's risk factors and environment.
"Weight, diabetes, waist-to-hip ratio, how round you get, the microbiome, low levels of Vitamin D, all things that are controllable or changeable really constitute the new risk profile," said Dr. Levine.
According to health experts, knowledge of your risk profile is the key to staying ahead and protecting yourself. Colorectal cancer is highly treatable when discovered early.
"The more it's explained in a rational and not an alarming way, the sooner people will pay attention to risk long before they pay attention to symptoms," said Dr. Levine.
People should also be aware of family history which played a role in Lecomte's story.
His mother died of colon cancer at 65 years old.
"A lot of what I do both personally and professionally every single day, I do it, I want to make sure she's proud of me looking down on me every single day making sure I'm making the most of my life," said Lecomte.
That mission is already in motion alongside Antonio Dionizio. The two founded Champions for Colorectal Cancer, a non-profit that spreads awareness among younger people.
"If you catch it early enough, your life could be saved. You could save other lives as well. Your children," said Dionizio.
"We've had several individuals come back each year who did get screened and had they not heard our message, they themselves would have actually had colon cancer. They came back pre-cancer," said Lecomte.
In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age to start screening for colon and rectal cancers from 50 to 45. Lecomte and Dionizio were part of that push.
"Diagnosis rates continue to climb and by 2030, it's going to be the leading cause of cancer deaths among young Americans," said Lecomte.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, fatigue and unexplained weight loss.
Champions for Colorectal Cancer will host their 3rd Annual Charity Golf Classic on Monday, May 8th at the Great River Golf Club in Milford. You can sign-up and find more information here.
Angelo Bavaro is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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