The Colon Club is proud to be one of the first organizations to raise awareness of Early Age Onset (EAO) colorectal cancer (CRC). CRC is finally recognized as being “On the Rise,” in people under the age of 50. Although they don’t yet know why, more researchers are now investigating the root cause. The dramatic increase has caused the American Cancer Society to lower the recommended screening age to 45 instead of 50.
EAO patients and survivors face unique challenges compared to individuals diagnosed over 45. They may have to make life altering decisions regarding things like (in)fertility, schooling/careers, and financial planning for long-term survivorship. Patients under age 45 also have increased risk for comorbidities and need to have additional monitoring and screening. It is important to discuss a survivorship care plan with your doctors. Making this plan will give you a road map to better monitor your health and to identify potential future health risks.
Recommended Screening Schedule for additional cancers according to the American Cancer Society:
The National Osteoporosis Foundation states that, “Cancer patients face an increased risk for bone loss and fractures due to both the direct effects of cancer on the skeleton and the side effects that come with many cancer specific therapies . . . Diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are keys to preventing osteoporosis and need to be emphasized to cancer patients who face a higher risk for osteoporosis after treatment.”
Because chemotherapy and/or radiation can cause early menopause in premenopausal women, decreased estrogen levels may have a negative impact on bone density. When combined with balance issues (potentially caused by neuropathy), the risks for falls and fall-related injuries are increased. Exercises for strengthening, especially balance and stability, can help prevent falls, and posture exercises are beneficial for proper body alignment to minimize stress on the spine.
Additional benefits of moderate exercise may include:
Beyond physical considerations, mental health is an important component of overall wellness. Our brains take approximately 25 years to mature, but important developments in the prefrontal cortex can develop well into our twenties. This region of the brain controls how we process our emotions, gauge risk, and make long-term plans. This makes processing a cancer diagnosis and following treatment protocol that much more of a challenge for young adults.
Psycho-oncology is a growing field which can help with the psychological, social, and behavioral issues associated with cancer. Adults under age 45 have concerns different from those in an older age group. Dating and relationships can be difficult to navigate with body image concerns and questions relating to things like when to tell someone about the cancer. Infertility and sexual health may be factors with problems like early menopause, erectile dysfunction, and radiation stenosis.
For improved quality of life, it is not enough to simply treat the cancer. Partner with doctors in your care by being honest about your concerns and any difficulties that you are experiencing with treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need, including mental health services. As you complete your treatment plan, inquire about a survivorship plan for follow-up care.