Contributed by Dr Wong Nan-Yaw, Colorectal Surgeon. Colorectal cancer is commonly regarded as an ‘old person’s problem‘. And that’s with good reason, for 80% of newly diagnosed colorectal cancers are in people above 70. However, the flip side is that out of the remaining 20%, two-thirds are people who are below the age of 50. At just 30+ or 40+ years of age, these people are at the prime of their lives and peak of their careers. Each diagnosis among people of this group is always a shocking one. At this age, no one expects to fall seriously ill, let alone be diagnosed with cancer. So why are the young getting colorectal cancer? The reason is simply one word: genetics. Genetic defects will increase the risk of colorectal cancer among the young. These usually manifest in the two forms below:
- Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC)
- Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP)
What does this mean? And how does knowing this change anything? If you have one of these genetic defects, you may not be able to stop colorectal cancer from affecting your life. But what you can do is to make sure that you detect and seek treatment early. One important sign is your family history. Has there been a history of colorectal cancers, especially young colorectal cancers, in your family? If yes, you should go for a colonoscopy 10 years before the age of the affected case. For example, if one of your family members was diagnosed at the age of 55, you should be screened at age 45 instead of waiting till the recommended age of 50.
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