HOUSTON, TX (NBC News/KAIT) -After striking differences were found between colon cancers that strike people over age 50 and those diagnosed in younger adults, doctors said the medical community needs to re-think early-onset colon cancer.
Kevin Hays was 28-years-old when doctors told him he had colorectal cancer. Hays said the diagnosis was shocking.
“This is not a world that I anticipated or wanted to be a part of,” Hays said.
He's one of a rapidly growing number of young people with colon cancer.
Dr. Scott Kopetz with the MD Anderson Cancer Center said it’s a disease that behaves differently than doctors have seen historically.
“The earlier that the cancer develops, the less it looks like a standard colon cancer,” Dr. Scott Kopetz said.
New research from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found early-onset cancer tended to have certain genetic mutations. Tumors can develop in unusual areas of the colon and may need to be treated in new ways.
“They tend to be less responsive to our standard treatments," Dr. Kopetz said. "Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that their biology, their wiring, is different.”
Younger patients have unique needs. Hays, for example, is a young father. Colon cancer treatments can impact fertility. It's one of the reasons cancer centers around the country are beginning to boost resources for young colorectal patients. Dana-Farber / Brigham and Women's Cancer Clinic in Boston is one of the first to do so.
“We have to calibrate our clinical decision making to look at a patient at 40 years old like we used to look at a patient at 50," Dr. Ronald Bleday said. "Forty is the new 50 in this day and age with colorectal cancer.”
The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer screening starting at age 45. It’s possible to reduce the risk of colon cancer with a fiber-rich diet and plenty of exercise.