Younger demographic seeing spike in colorectal cancer
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Haley Lisenbury realized two years ago that something was not right with her body. She started experiencing irregular stools and eventually, she noticed blood as well.
“That was you know not normal, but I think a lot of people brush that off,” Lisenbury said.
For a year, she maintained that mindset, delaying medical attention.
“I didn’t think it was anything super serious because I was so young, and so I kind of just blew it off for a long time,” Lisenbury said.
Lisenbury finally sought medical help after she continued to experience bloody stools. Her doctor recommended that she undergo a colonoscopy. Instead, she once again delayed.
“I was really busy like most people are in their lives, and I was also concerned about financial responsibilities. I wasn’t sure how much the insurance company would cover,” Lisenbury said.
Lisenbury opted to wait until the pain she was experiencing became unbearable.
“My symptoms had gotten wildly out of control where it was actually starting to prevent my daily tasks that I was doing at work,” Lisenbury said. “That’s when it finally caught my attention.”
In the Fall of 2021, Lisenbury was diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer at the age of 34.
“I like to take action and at that point, I knew what was going on so I felt empowered to do something about it,” Lisenbury said.
Her story of pushing back treatment, however, is not uncommon according to Alaska Regional Hospital Colorectal Surgeon Dr. Dan Rossi.
“It’s not as mainstream,” Rossi said. “I think, because it is part of the body that people sometimes are comfortable discussing.”
Rossi said that patients delaying medical attention is a concerning factor. Rossi said that colorectal cancer remains the third leading cancer-related death for both men and women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that as many as 9% of cancer deaths are from colorectal cancer. Rossi is especially concerned now as the hospital has started seeing a trend of increased diagnoses in younger demographics.
In 2020, the recommended age for a colonoscopy was changed by the American Cancer Society from 50 to 45 due to the trend of younger patients being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Since then, Rossi said that the hospital has seen a trend of patients in their 30s, including at least one patient in their early 20s.
“The cause for this onset in younger population is multifactorial,” Rossi said. “There is good evidence to show that some is related to diet, some is also environmental causes, and then others relates to genetics.”
Since her diagnosis, Lisenbury has undergone radiation, numerous surgeries and chemotherapy. She currently has one more surgery scheduled, and from there she says her treatment will mostly transition to monitoring her cancer. Now looking back, Lisenbury says she wishes she took earlier action.
“I should have sought out help sooner,” Lisenbury said. “But I just was busy in my life. Just like how people get. They get wrapped up in a bunch of other things and they lose track of their health.”
Lisebury said her situation in one she hopes others will learn from.
“If something doesn’t feel right you need to get it looked at and you also need to see it through until you get real answers,” Lisenbury said.
Rossi suggested that anybody who experiences symptoms of colorectal cancer seek medical attention immediately. The most common symptoms are rectal bleeding and changes in bowel habits.
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