April 22, 2019
Colorectal cancer is often thought of as an “old person’s disease,” but it’s becoming more common among younger adults (under age 50). On April 22, Congressional Families hosted a live webcast, “The Rise of Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer,” at the National Association of Broadcasters studios to educate the public about this alarming trend and focus the attention of young adults through the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s edgy new awareness campaign called “Too Young for this Sh*t.”
Congressional Families Executive Director Lisa McGovern opened the webcast, which was moderated by Dr. John Marshall, founding director of the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. The panel featured Dr. Kimmie Ng, founding director of the Young Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Patrick Beauregard, a 31-year-old colorectal cancer patient/advocate (of Dr. Ng’s); and Lisa Berry Edwards, Managing Director of External Affairs for the Prevent Cancer Foundation®.
Dr. Marshall offered his perspective as an experienced GI doctor who has seen an increase in the number of younger patients in his own practice in recent years. Dr. Ng highlighted the disturbing rise in colorectal cancer in younger adults compared to declining rates of colorectal cancer among those over age 50 (which experts credit to screening). She gave an overview of Dana Farber’s Young Onset Colorectal Cancer Center and its programs that address the unique challenges faced by young colorectal patients, including fertility questions, mental health and financial concerns.
The most moving part of the broadcast came from Patrick who shared his personal experience as a young colon cancer patient. At the age of 29, shortly after returning from his honeymoon, he experienced severe stomach pains that led him to the emergency room and an eventual diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer. He had been the picture of health—an athletic Marine who thought he was doing all the right things. Dr. Ng noted his similarities to her other young patients who often reported eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly prior to their diagnosis.
“Cancer was the last thing on my mind,” Patrick said. “I thought there is no way I have this cancer in my body and don’t know about it.”
Patrick has undergone more than 30 rounds of chemotherapy and is now beginning a new clinical trial. Dr. Ng stressed the need for more research to better understand what makes early-onset colorectal cancer different from the disease affecting older adults.
Like Patrick, most young adults without a family history of colorectal cancer would not associate their symptoms with this disease—and even doctors can be slow to consider it. That’s why the Prevent Cancer Foundation® created the “Too Young for This Sh*t” campaign that uses cheeky graphics to showcase symptoms associated with colorectal cancer and encourage conversations with health professionals if symptoms are experienced. (Read more about the campaign at tooyoungforthis.org).
The panelists engaged in a lively Q&A session, discussing screening recommendations, how to spot symptoms, and the need to be an advocate—for oneself as a patient, and also to bring more attention to this alarming trend. Congressional spouses have a unique platform to raise awareness. Dr. Marshall noted that it was a political spouse—first lady Betty Ford—who helped bring breast cancer out of the shadows following her own battle with the disease. It is time for us shine a light on colorectal cancer and end the stigma around discussing this disease.