At first glance, 31-year-old Kevin Hays has a picture-perfect life – a loving family and a successful career developing real estate. But he’s also fighting colon cancer.
“When I was first diagnosed, I remember all the doctors and nurses constantly telling me ‘oh you’re too young for this. I can’t believe you’re going through colon cancer,'” said Hays, a colon cancer survivor.
But Hays is part of a troubling trend: people in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s with colorectal cancer. A recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows a sharp rise in cases among younger adults.
“A lot of people don’t put a 31-year-old face behind colon cancer,” said Hays.
That institute study showed rectal cancers jumped 29 percent and colon cancers rose 17 percent in younger adults since 1990.
“There’s some thought that it has to do with the components of the western lifestyle; we’re busy with work, sedentary behaviors, changes in diet,” said Dr. Patrick Boland, a medical oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I think there’s reason for us to really look at this and think about this more whether there’s another strategy we should pursue,” said Boland.
Hays disagrees with the notion that someone is too young to get these cancers. If symptoms like bleeding, bloating, or an unexplained weight loss appear, get checked.
“Don’t be afraid of screening. It’s not a terrible procedure, and it can really save your life,” said Hays.
Both men and women face a 4 percent risk of getting colorectal cancer, but for men, it’s the second leading cause cancer death.
Hays has started Blue Hope Hard Hat initiative, a non-profit foundation to raise awareness and advocate for early detection of colorectal cancer across all age groups.