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Younger People Are Being Diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer. Hoag Has Them Covered

People as young as 20 are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, a disease once associated exclusively with older adults. While researchers try to unravel the cause of this troubling trend, oncologists at Hoag are educating young people about their risks, and about how to identify and avoid the disease.

Hoag is also spreading a message of hope for those contending with what might be a shocking diagnosis: “Colorectal cancer is a conquerable disease, and the earlier the detection, the better the chances are for a full recovery,” said William Oh, M.D., a double board certified colon and rectal cancer surgeon who recently joined Hoag.

By working collaboratively, Hoag Family Cancer Institute and Hoag Digestive Health Institute physicians provide patients a seamless experience, from evaluating risk to diagnosing, treating and providing patient support.

Hoag is renowned nationally for its exceptional outcomes in colon cancer surgeries and its extensive experience, boasting the highest surgical volume program in California.

Additionally, it has earned the prestigious designation as a Center for Excellence in Robotic Surgery by the Surgical Review Corporation.

“Surgery is the main treatment option for most patients,” said Babak Rad, M.D., program director of colorectal cancer surgery at Hoag. “Hoag has performed more colon cancer surgeries than any other hospital in the entire state. It’s important for patients to understand that there’s a direct link between experience and better outcomes, making it a crucial factor to consider when seeking care.” Through a robust clinical trials program, Hoag also offers access to new treatments that are offering patients options that are not available at other hospitals in Orange County, said Carlos Becerra, M.D., the Margaret Givan Larkin Endowed Chair in Developmental Cancer Therapeutics and medical director of cancer research for the Hoag Family Cancer Institute and a subspecialty trained medical oncologist treating gastrointestinal cancers.

“Our goal is to reduce or prevent cancer by bringing to our patients unique treatment therapies that are only being offered at an elite selection of hospitals throughout the country,” Dr. Becerra said. “We are moving the needle on patient care, and we are doing it in the way that Hoag is known for – by focusing on our patients as individuals.”

Physicians say lifestyle remains an important consideration when trying to prevent colorectal cancer.

“Reducing your risk comes down to early screening, losing weight if you are overweight or obese, and limiting your intake of red meat, processed foods and alcohol,” Dr. Rad said. “As with so much of our health, diet and exercise can play a large role in preventing disease.

Even with the rise in younger cases, colorectal cancer still primarily affects people who are over 50, and the current federal guidelines call for screening beginning at age 45 for most people.

But for patients with a strong family history, Hoag primary care physicians work closely with the specialists to conduct screening colonoscopies earlier.

“Finding cancer early is key. That’s why we talk about getting screened starting at age 45 for most people,” said Dr. Oh. “But if you have family members who had colon cancer, your doctor might suggest you get checked even earlier.”

If you are experiencing any symptoms, see your doctor right away. Early warning signs include rectal bleeding, anemia, changes in bowel habits and abdominal pain. All patients can do their part to prevent disease by getting screened at the appropriate age and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to know that the earlier a cancer is found, the more treatable it is.

“Nearly all colon cancers begin as benign polyps that slowly develop into cancer,” said Dr. Rad. “In many cases, colorectal cancer symptoms do not appear until the tumor is large. That is why screening colonoscopy is so critical in detecting polyps before they have turned into cancer.”

If you’re 45 or older or have a higher risk, talk to your regular doctor about getting screened. Hoag offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary program with the highest level of expertise, along with a number of resources for patients.

Visit Hoag Family Cancer Institute’s colorectal cancer program to learn more.