Colon cancer rates rising in young adults

Colon cancer rates are rising at an alarming rate for young adults, and many of those diagnosed are already at later stages.

Now, a new cancer center is opening in Boston that will focus on why this disease is affecting so many young people.

For Pat Beauregard, it started with an intense stomach ache.

"I’ve never felt such a crushing weight come upon me when I was told at age 29 you have Stage 4 colon cancer," Beauregard said.

He just married his college sweetheart Amanda one month earlier. Friends and family combined their names to affectionately call the couple "Panda." Now, they wear rubber bracelets that say “Panda Power."

"Pat's mom made us these when he was diagnosed, and the other side says, 'Pray, hope, don't worry,' " his wife Amanda said.

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An intelligence specialist in the United States Marine Corps, Beauregard was the picture of perfect health.

"There's no way I have this cancer inside my body and I don't know about it," Beauregard said.

Dr. Kimmie Ng is a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She's also director of the Young Onset Colorectal Center, one of the first centers to study colorectal cancer in young adults.

"If you ask me what keeps me up at night, it is why are cancers developing in otherwise young and healthy people who have no risk factors," Ng said. "So someone like Pat, when he walked through my door, it just unnerves me we don't know why this has happened."

She says by the year 2030, it's estimated that there will be a 90 percent increase in colon cancer among patients ages 20 to 34.

A recent study led by the American Cancer Society found anyone born in 1990 is twice as likely to develop colon cancer than someone born in 1950.

Because of these findings, the American Cancer Society lowered the screening age from 50 down to 45.

"If you look at the patients that are coming in here, many of them are in their 20s or 30s, younger than 45," Ng said. "So even with that lower age, we are still missing a lot of young people who are getting colon cancer."

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This new cancer center will focus on research specifically for this age group, and hopefully answer questions about why the rate is increasing so much.

"We do think that some of the cancers that develop in younger people may be biologically different and perhaps more aggressive," Ng said. "That's going to be one of the major questions that we are going to ask as part of the research initiative in this Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center."

Ng said bringing awareness to this issue is paramount. Especially to primary care physicians that might dismiss some of the symptoms because of the age of their patient.

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Beauregard was almost discharged from the hospital, but a doctor decided to scan his abdomen that detected the tumor.

"With this diagnosis, you're going to have your good days and your bad days, and you need those people that you love and who love you back there to pick you up when you're having one of those bad days," Beauregard said.

He has gone through 32 rounds of chemotherapy since he was diagnosed. He says he's lost almost twenty pounds of muscle.

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"It's nice to hear people say he looks so good, but I also want people to know what a struggle it is for him," his wife Amanda said. "He doesn't show it all the time, it's tough. Thirty-two rounds of chemo isn't easy."

At a recent visit with Ng, Beauregard found out he'll be part of a new clinical trial.

Now, Beauregard and his wife will hold onto the mantra on their wristbands as he continues treatment. Pray, hope, don’t worry.

"I'm no fool, I’ve seen the statistics that I’m up against, but I remain optimistic," Beauregard said. "So, I think being positive is the only way you can get through a situation like this."


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