Young patients & colorectal cancer: Study finds symptoms are ignored

A growing number of young people are suffering from colorectal cancer, and doctors are missing the diagnosis.

A missed diagnostic can have catastrophic consequences. A recent case study provides an example. In this case, a woman went to the doctor complaining of constipation. She emphasized the fact that her family had a history of colorectal cancer, but physicians did not take her concerns seriously.

Months passed. The young woman developed a chronic cough. Doctors ordered chest scans to determine the cause of the cough. The results were worse then anticipated. The woman had developed lesions in her lungs and breast. Physicians confirmed the colorectal cancer she had suspected, and it was advanced.

At the age of 35, she was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer.

Is that too young to get colorectal cancer?

Unfortunately, not. This relatively young woman is not alone. Researchers with a patient advocacy organization out of Washington recently studied the colorectal cancer diagnosis of young patients. The researchers found a "rapid and alarming increase of colorectal cancer diagnosis among young adults (20-49 years old)." Of those diagnosed with the disease before the age of 49, 57% were 40 to 49 at the time of the diagnosis, 33% were 20 to 39 and about 10% were under the age of 30.

Their findings include:

  • Multiple opinions. 67% of respondents stated they needed to see two or more physicians before getting the correct diagnosis.
  • Difficult treatment. Due to the fact that many of the diagnosis were advanced stages of cancer, the patients required aggressive therapies to treat the disease. This led to a decrease in quality of life for the patient. Patients in this position reported depression and sexual dysfunctions.

Researchers state the most alarming finding was the fact that the vast majority of the participants in the study were diagnosed with an advanced form of colorectal cancer.

What can patients learn from this study?

It is important for patients to advocate for their health. If they believe a diagnosis of irritable bowel disease or hemorrhoids is incorrect, get another opinion. Common symptoms include constipation or diarrhea, bloody stool, cramps, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.

What if a patient gets a late stage diagnosis of colorectal cancer?

Those who have seen physicians and believe the doctor missed the diagnosis may have a legal claim. If the physician failed to act in a manner another physician of similar training would have acted, the doctor may have committed malpractice. Patients can hold doctors liable for missed diagnosis in these cases. This can lead to funds to help cover the costs connected to treatment as well as lost wages and potential pain and suffering awards.