Colon Cancer Rises Dramatically in Millennials

As a stage 4 colon cancer survivor and a mom of a young adult, I am frightened by what I am reading regarding the epidemic in the rise of colorectal cancer in Millennials and what it will mean to them if Congress attempts to roll out another form of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

According to an article published in February of this year in the Journal of The National Cancer Institute, those born circa 1990 have not only double the risk of getting colon cancer, but also—and very alarmingly—have quadruple the risk of getting colorectal cancer. Why is this a frightening epidemic? Because 70% of all colorectal cancers are sporadic, meaning diagnosed people do not have a family history and do not have a genetic disposition.

With this in mind, even if you do go to your doctor with symptoms, such as severe bloating, unintended weight loss, fatigue, nausea, pains in your abdomen and/or blood in your stool, most doctors dismiss your symptoms as an upset stomach—unless you have a family history of colon cancer. This results in younger people receiving diagnoses of later stages of colorectal cancer. These patients will have a harder time surviving cancer and if they do survive, they will be left with lifelong damage and complications from treatment and surgeries.

Falling Through the Cracks

If the American Health Care Act had passed legislation, so many Millennials may have fallen through the cracks. How you ask? Simple. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated that everyone must have health insurance whether young people stay on their parent’s insurance until they are 26, or if they go on their own, face financial penalties. With AHCA, the GOP intended to eliminate the law’s mandate that Americans be insured. This means that Millennials, who notoriously change jobs and move around as much the moon circles around the earth, can have lapses in their coverage.

This doesn’t, however, mean there are no penalties. In section 133 of the AHCA the penalty for lapse in insurance—if you ever do decide to get back on insurance—is 30% of their annual premium total for the next full year. For young adults, this would be a huge deterrent. Let’s be clear. The average monthly cost of cancer treatments is upwards of $10,000 a month. This does not include transportation to and from treatments or losing a paycheck when patients are too sick to work. Additionally, because colorectal cancer will most definitely disrupt reproductive abilities, it could mean freezing of patients’ eggs and sperm.

With such an alarming rise of colorectal cancer in Millennials, prevention and preparedness is absolute key in giving them a fighting chance at survival. We simply cannot afford to go back to the days of no preventative care, and instead just deal with whatever comes, when it comes. Educating primary care doctors on screening young adults who present with symptoms and access to affordable and comprehensive coverage are the best ways we can combat this rising epidemic.

  • Vanessa Ghigliotty

    Vanessa Ghigliotty, BA, CPN is a stage 4 colon cancer survivor, certified patient navigator, and a Steering Committee member of the New York Citywide Colon Cancer Control Coalition (C5). In 2015 she was featured in a NY1 public service announcement advocating for colon cancer screening and prevention and was the recipient of the 2015 Leadership Award from the Colon Cancer Challenge Foundation.


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