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I'm Only 19. Could I Have Colon Cancer as a Teenager?

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Updated: June 5, 2007


I was on your site and I'm a little concerned. I'm only a teenager (19), but I have a family history of diabetes and while I don't smoke, everyone else in my house does. I've been extremely tired recently even though I'm sleeping more often. My stools are thinner than they used to be. I often feel like I have to have a bowel movement but can't. Also, I've noticed a pain in my lower abdomen when bending certain ways. But I've never heard of a teenager getting colon cancer. Is it possible? If so, is there any test other than a colonoscopy that can diagnose colon cancer?

As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to medicine, nothing's impossible. People get things no one ever thought they would and people recover from things no one ever thought possible.

But let's talk about you, in particular. It's great that you know your family medical history. Diabetes is a risk factor for colon cancer (and many other health conditions), so you should keep an eye on your blood sugar. And you're right to worry about living in a house full of smokers. Smoking has been associated with increased colon cancer risk (and a bunch of other unpleasant things) so my advice is to limit your secondhand smoke exposure as much as you can.

In general, teenagers aren't likely to get colon cancer. Most people who develop colon cancer don't do so until their fifties or later. But younger people, including teenagers and children, can develop colorectal cancer. For example, multiple polyps (and potentially tumors) occur in juvenile polyposis. Also, people with FAP have 100 percent chance of developing colorectal cancer (usually by age 45) and people with HNPCC have about an 80 percent chance of developing colorectal cancer. Is there a history of colon cancer in your family? If so, my advice would be to talk to a doctor about colon cancer screening.

I also think you should consider talking to a doctor about your symptoms. Something doesn't have to be cancer for it to adversely affect your quality of life. Whatever's going on, a medical professional should be able to help you figure it out and take care of it.

Now for your last question. Yes, there are many tests used to diagnose colorectal cancer. The colonoscopy is the most comprehensive screening test, but other choices include a sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema, or a fecal occult blood test. You can learn more about each of the tests in the Screening section of the colon cancer site.

Please remember that I am not a medical professional. I offer my input as a neighbor, a friend, sitting at the kitchen table talking about what's on your mind and trying to help if I can. This is not medical advice. Please don't consider it medical advice or pass it on to others as medical advice. Thanks.

Sources:
  1. Colon Cancer: How is Colon Cancer Inherited? Genetic Health. 4 Aug. 2000. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www.genetichealth.com/CRC_Colon_Cancer_Does_Colon_Cancer_Run_in_Families.shtml].
  2. Colon Cancer: What Causes Colon Cancer? eHealthMD. Oct. 2004. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www.ehealthmd.com/library/colon-cancer/Colon-Cancer_causes.html].
  3. Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Treatment. National Foundation for Cancer Research. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www2.nfcr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=cancers_colorectal].
  4. Detailed Guide: Colon and Rectum Cancer: What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer? American Cancer Society. 7 Mar. 2006. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_2X_What_are_the_risk_factors_for_colon_and_rectum_cancer.asp].
  5. Larsson, Susanna C. and Orsini, Nicola. "Diabetes Mellitus and Risk of Colorectal Cancer: A Meta-Analysis." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 97.22 (Nov. 2005): 1679-1687. 24 Jun. 2006.
  6. Overview: Colon and Rectum Cancer: What Causes Colorectal Cancer? American Cancer Society. 15 Mar. 2006. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_2_2X_What_causes_colorectal_cancer.asp?sitearea=].
  7. Waknine, Yael. Chronic Insulin Use Increases Risk of Colorectal Cancer in Type 2 Diabetics. Medscape Medical News. 1 Oct. 2004. 24 Jun. 2006 [http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/490435].

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