Colon cancer and millennials: what new studies have found

Colon Cancer and Millennials: What New Studies Have Found

It’s often thought that cancer is an old person’s disease. We occasionally see a child or young adult with cancer, but we think to ourselves “that’s an anomaly. That doesn’t happen outside of the few, rare cases.”

In reality, millennials are seeing a spike in cancer diagnosis. This age range usually compasses those in their early 20s to early 30s. This is obviously not what most would consider “old” — in fact, this is incredibly young for a cancer epidemic.

And that’s what it is. Studies now show that a large portion of millennials are now being diagnosed with colon cancer, and the cases aren’t just anomalies — they’re a disturbing trend that researchers are looking to put a stop to.

The Real Statistics

Let’s get into specifics. While colorectal cancer diagnosis are on the decline for adults 55 and older, scientists and cancer experts are now wondering if screenings should be recommended for ages younger than 50 due to increased diagnosis in age ranges younger than 55. The National Cancer institute has found that both young adults in their 20s and 30s, as well as middle aged adults in their 40s and early 50s, have increased rates of colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Between the mid 1980s and 2013, those in their 20s and 30s have seen a one to two percent increase per year in the rate of colon cancer diagnosis. During that same time, rectal cancer diagnosis rates in that same age group increased about three percent per year. Specifically, 14.6 percent of rectal cancer diagnosis was reported in patients in their 20s in 1989-1990. In 2012-2013, that number increased to 29.2 percent.

When researchers compared the potential for rectal cancer in people 20 and older, they found that those born around 1990 had double and quadruple the risk of colon and rectal cancer respectively as compared to those born around 1950.

For adults in their 40s and early 50s, the rates increased at a slower but noticeable pace. Combining these statistics, three in 10 new cases of rectal cancer are now found to be diagnosed in patients younger than 55. Compared to 1990, this is double the ratio. Researches had noticed a trend in recent years, but after compiling the evidence as a whole were shocked to find just how drastically noticeable the increase has been.

The Cause

With such damning statistics must come some awareness of why this is happening, right? Wrong — as of this posting, researches still don’t know what’s really behind this sharp increase in colorectal cancer in younger patients.

There are, however, theories as to what the causes could be. At first glance, the changing diet of Generation X and millennials as compared to older generations could be a culprit. How people eat today as compared to 50 years ago is drastically different when taking into consideration how our food processing and preservation industry functions.

Diets now are higher in fat and unnatural sugars, people are more sedentary and this leads to excess weight. Simultaneously, people aren’t eating as much fiber as they used to. The colon and digestive system are greatly affected by a person’s bad diet, which may be where this spike in diagnosis is coming from.

Some have also considered that HPV might be the cause for these cancers, but researchers have already established that can’t be the case. While HPV is the cause for some squamous cell cancers that occur in the anus, colorectal cancers don’t fall into this same category.

In some cases where a younger person is diagnosed, their health is impeccable. Jessica Dilts, diagnosed with rectal cancer at 34, was in shape and had dedicated her life to fitness as a long distance runner. However, her cancer was so severe that it had already spread to her lungs and liver. She is now expected to be on maintenance chemotherapy indefinitely.

This is bad news in a certain way. If the causes is as simple as a person’s diet, it can be easier to convince others to change their ways for their health. Now that examples showcase that this cancer  spike seems to be indiscriminate to healthy and unhealthy lifestyles, researchers are back at the drawing board.

Having Hope

It’s important for millennials and young adults that fall into this age group to understand that most of them still won’t get colorectal cancer, but that the possibility is there. If you fall into this age group, talk to your general physician about a cancer screening just to be safe. Watch for signs like blood in stool, prolonged constipation or abnormal bowel habits. Right now, the best way to beat this spike is to stay as alert as possible.

Researches are hard at work looking for the cause of this spike. With patience, hope and support, they will one day find it.

How cancer affects men and women in different ways

How Cancer Affects Men and Women in Different Ways

The differences, disabilities and superiorities of the sexes have been debated and discussed for hundreds of years. Do they exist? Is there a gender that comes out on top? Should one sex be lauded over the other because of their physical beauty or brute strength?

Whatever your opinion on issues like misandry, feminism and the battle of the sexes, cancer doesn’t discriminate — anyone of any gender, sex or orientation can be diagnosed sometime in their life. There’s also a question of biology: cancer has always been able to affect men and women in drastically different ways.

When it comes to cancer, men lose — studies have shown for decades that men are much more likely to both be diagnosed with cancer and to die from it. Almost one in two men will be diagnosed with cancer, with women coming in at one in three. Researchers understand that some of the reasoning comes from lifestyle and sex hormones, but only recently have they truly begin to understand the difference between men and women who get cancer at a molecular level.

Why Does this Happen?

As mentioned above, the typical lifestyle differences between men and women could be a huge catalyst. The journal “Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention” found that when studying women from 1977 to 2006, they were more likely to survive cancer that could be found in both sexes. This includes cancers like lung and colorectal, while of course excluding biologically female-only cancers like uterine and ovarian. While this data is outdated, Dr. Glen Weiss theorized that lifestyle factors like smoking and eating fattier foods could be the culprit.

In other cases, women do get diagnosed with cancer more often, like in the case of developing lung cancer without having smoked. In this case of diagnosis, women are more likely to be diagnosed than male counterparts, which calls into question whether sex and cancer can be truly linked in some cases.

This actually looks at a deeper issue of sex and cancer: is there a true correlation, or is this correlation without causation? Some doctors argue that while some cancers are obviously effecting more women than men, is it because of a cultural issue or something literally genetically ingrained in men and woman at a biological level.

It’s important to look at these theories from a cultural perspective. If someone was 50 in 1977 and was diagnosed with cancer, they were growing up in the 30s and 40s. In this case, men were more likely to smoke, drink and live the high life while women didn’t perform these activities as much due to cultural standards. As our culture becomes more homogenized in the context of what women and men can do, it may be likely that the statistics begin to even out.

In short, just because men are more likely to be involved in a cultural practice doesn’t mean that a cancer related to that practice is linked to a man genetically — it’s instead linked to the practice. If no women drank alcohol and only men were allowed to consume it, would the cancers derived from that practice be male-specific cancers? No, they would be alcohol specific cancers.

The Possibility of Treatment

Despite cultural practices playing a part in how cancer affects the sexes, it is possible that there is a genetic link that needs to be explored. Another study conducted by “Cancer Cell” found that when comparing the genetics of both men’s and women’s tumors, genetic differences were found in eight different types of cancers. These included bladder, head and neck, liver, thyroid, kidney and two types of lung cancers.

Why is this so important? First, any new knowledge we can find out about cancer can lead us down the right path to treatment. Second, in this case it’s possible that we may be able to find a better way to cure different types of cancer for both men and women by understanding these genetic differences.

If a type of cancer is genetically different inside of a woman versus inside of a man, the treatment may be more effective for one over the other. The woman may be more receptive to a certain type of treatment, while she may be more resistant to another.

This kind of understanding is extremely important in the field of precision cancer treatment. Precision cancer treatment examines tumors on a molecular level, exploring genetics and mutations on the genome that may explain the cancer and how to treat it. This type of cancer treatment has yet to fully explore the concept of treating cancer based on sex, but the potential is there as more research is done.

More studies will be performed in the near future that can better explore the link between sex chromosomes and cancerous cells. As more research is performed, the more likely we are to understand this link and whether or not we can better perfect cancer treatments because of it.

Cancer and work: when to tell your boss and how to deal with co-workers

Cancer and Work: When to Tell Your Boss and How to Deal with Co-Workers

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they often think of two subsets of people first: their friends and their family. It isn’t until later that they realize they also have to tell their place of employment about their recent diagnosis as well.

In some cases of illness or surgery, telling your place of employment is avoidable. It’s possible to take a sick day, schedule an appointment and be done with it. When it comes to cancer, more often than not it’s unavoidable. It would be a constant elephant in the room — cancer patients going through treatment usually go through a drastic change in appearance, from losing weight to losing their hair.

Cancer patients going through chemo must also come to terms with the fact that their health is likely going to fail. Chemotherapy can really take the wind out of a person, and while patients are told to exercise and continue to live life as normally as possible, sometimes work doesn’t fit into that equation. Thus, cancer patients will eventually have to discuss a leave of absence with their boss or talk about how they may be gone more than usual as a heads up.

Coworkers will also notice these changes, and cancer patients can either tell them or choose to keep their medical issues private. How they handle these things — how you may handle these things — is up to the patient. We have some advice for how to start conversations, when to tell and what may happen after they find out.

Talking to a Boss

Depending on the patient’s relationship with their boss, the process of discussing a cancer diagnosis with them can be very clinical or much more personal. Those with closer relationships to their employer can find that the emotional investment is much more present, while employers that have a strictly business relationship will keep things professional.

In any case, the most important thing that the boss in question needs to know about is the treatment plan in order to discuss any absences and to explain why the employee may be gone so frequently. It’s important to also discuss the severity of the cancer in the context of how long this may take — is it not so serious and only requires a few rounds of chemo? Or is it terminal?

During this conversation it’s also important to discuss changes that you may have to make with regards to work schedule or capabilities. For instance, a part time worker in a grocery store who is diagnosed with cancer may request to be moved from stocking to register work because lifting and moving boxes can become too strenuous.

It may also be wise to keep a record of any conversations had with an employer. Bosses are not allowed to discriminate against cancer patients as required by federal law. If an employer is potentially discriminating against a cancer patient, this is illegal and human resources or a legal counsel should be contacted ASAP. Keeping evidence can help support any discrimination claims that may pop up.

Talking to Coworkers

Coworkers are a different breed altogether. Many employees often have a more personal relationship with the people that work around them, which makes their empathy and potential insensitivity all the more important.

Telling coworkers can be like telling friends in that it’s more honest and casual — it focuses more on the experience and not the clinical outlook. It’s still important to tell coworkers in order to ask for their potential help, but the relationship is likely to be much more focused on emotional support.

Some coworkers don’t know how to handle a cancer diagnosis in the most productive ways. Some get too upset or overly invested in the diagnosis, often infantilizing a cancer patient to the point of offensiveness. Others will forget themselves or don’t want to treat the patient differently. It’s important to keep the human connection the same, but some changes do need to be made. For instance, there’s no a heightened sense of importance when it comes to things like cleanliness or fatigue.

In the case that a cancer patient is uncomfortable in any way with what a coworker is doing, regardless of whether their heart is in the right place, it’s important that they start a dialogue with said coworker. In fact, setting up an impromptu meeting to discuss how they want their diagnosis to be handled isn’t a bad idea. This idea can be quickly run by a boss so they can sit in if they wish.

Cancer isn’t a death sentence in many cases, and a large number of patients continue to work through parts of their treatment. If you’re a cancer patient who is going to work during treatment, don’t be afraid. Just be communicative and aware.