Local doctors react to jump in colorectal cancers in patients under age 50

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AURORA, Colo. -- An article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute this week shows that while the overall rate of colorectal cancer has been falling dramatically, there's been a steady rise in cases among people under age 50.

One of those patients is Elise Heiberg. The mother of two from Fort Collins was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 39. She needed surgery and multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. "My life has been turned upside down by this," she said.

What makes this even more difficult is that Elise had blood in her stool, and other symptoms for 12 years. She says she went to 12 different doctors who dismissed her concerns because of her young age and fit lifestyle. "It just was never taken seriously. They said, 'Oh you probably have hemorrhoids, or skin tags, or fissures. Don`t worry about it,'" she said.

But as soon as she found a doctor who ordered a colonoscopy, it showed a malignant tumor. "I burst into tears. I cried for about ten minutes, then I just felt the relief of I finally know what's wrong with me now," she said.

ARTICLE: Colorectal cancer incidence in the United States

The new research shows Elise is not alone. Dr. Ana Gleisner, Elise's surgical oncologist at the University of Colorado Hospital, says that doctors and patients should not dismiss symptoms just because a patient is young.

"It can happen in this age group and you should not simply dismiss," Dr. Gleisner said. Although she points out the risk of colorectal cancer in people under the age of 50 is still very low.

Current guidelines suggest that people get colonoscopies starting at age 50. The doctor does not believe the screening guidelines for patients without symptoms should change, but she says if you have symptoms, you should get them investigated no matter your age.

Elise wishes she had been screened sooner. "If it had not spread to the lymph nodes, then I would not have needed the radiation or chemotherapy," Elise said.

She has three weeks of treatment to go, and hopes she will then be cancer free.