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Colon cancer rising among young adults, new study says

POSTED: March 31, 2017 6:01 a.m.
Erin Goff/

Colon cancer is the No. 2 cause of cancer death in the United States, closely following lung cancer. Doctors are seeing an increase in millennials diagnosed with colon cancer. Doctor's diagnosed Roger Hansen with colon cancer at 30.

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A recent American Cancer Society study has discovered the rates of colon cancer have dramatically risen in younger adults.

This has doctors getting the word out about preventing and detecting the disease.

"I was really tired. I started to get exhausted,” said Roger Hansen. "I also started to get really pale."

Hansen, from Hooper, Utah, was diagnosed with colon cancer at 30. He is now educating others about the importance of colonoscopies.

"He would just lay down on the couch. I was just like, ‘This isn’t right,’” said wife Brittany Hansen.

"She basically said we've got one of two things: You're either extremely lazy or you're really sick, either way, we need to get it fixed,” Roger Hansen said.

That loving nagging paid off. Roger got an appointment, and doctors scheduled a colonoscopy to find answers.

"The doctor sat down and said, ‘Here are the pictures. This is a large tumor. Roger, you have colon cancer," Roger Hansen recalled.

A tumor was the size of a grapefruit. Hansen had stage 3 colon cancer.

He kissed his two little boys and wife goodbye and went in for surgery the very next day.

Sadly, Roger Hansen’s case is not unique. Dr. Christian Capener of Intermountain Riverton Hospital in Utah has seen several similar cases. "The most important thing for young people to understand is you can get colon cancer. It's not an old person's disease anymore," Capener said.

The key is looking at family history. Hansen had an aunt who battled colon cancer, as well. Ways to prevent illness include staying active, eating healthy and don't ignore symptoms, like unexplained weight loss, blood and change in the stool, and abdominal pain.

"A lot of young people feel like, ‘Well I’m too young to get cancer, so this abdominal pain that I'm having is something I really shouldn't worry about.’ That's just not true," Capener said.

Colonoscopies are considered the gold standard for detecting cancer.

"If something starts to grow, snip it out and take care of it right then and there,” Roger Hansen said. “Before it turns anything nasty. Colon cancer is one of those cancers they call a silent killer, it creeps up on you."

Roger and Brittany Hansen believe they have beat that killer. Four years later, they now have three little boys and Roger's cancer is in remission.

The American Cancer Society and others have launched an initiative called "80 by 2018." It informs patients how simple it is to get screened and that a colonoscopy could save your life. The goal is to get 80 percent of adults aged 50 and older to get screened for colorectal cancer by next year.
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