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Failure to Diagnose Colorectal Cancer In Young Patients A Growing Concern, Researchers Warn

The findings of a new study suggest that rates of colorectal cancer among younger patients is increasing, and researchers warn that in many cases doctors fail to diagnose the disease early, when it is most treatable.

Researchers from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance are presenting a study this week at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Atlanta, which reveals that many patients under the age of 50 face a risk of colorectal cancer misdiagnosis, and it sometimes takes as many as four doctors to detect the cancer in young patients.

The study involved a survey of 1,195 living patients and survivors of colorectal cancer. According to the findings, 57% of respondents were diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 49, 33% were diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 39, and 10% were diagnosed before the age of 30. However, the findings indicate that 71% were at stage III and stage IV before being diagnosed, while patients over the age of 50 were significantly more likely to be diagnosed at early stages.

Those findings mesh with previous studies, which suggest patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer before turning 50 are diagnosed at later stages of the disease, which are harder to treat and results in a lower chance of survival.

The study also found that 63% of respondents waited from three months to a year to see a doctor after symptoms appeared, because they did not recognize the signs of colorectal cancer. However, 67% had to see at least two physicians before they were adequately diagnosed. In some cases, they had to see as many as four doctors before receiving a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Researchers noted that many of those surveyed had delays in treatment due to misdiagnosis.

“Young people need to be aware that colorectal cancer can happen at any age and it is not a disease of old people,” Lead researcher, Ronit Yarden, PhD, director of medical affairs at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said in an AACR press release. “Everybody should listen to their body and, if it doesn’t feel right, go to the doctor to be tested.”

The researchers warn that the symptoms of colorectal cancer, which can include constipation, weight loss, and fatigue, are often associated with other health problems, and can be missed since the illness is generally associated with older patients.

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