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Research and clinical trials in Texas help to combat rising rates of colon cancer among younger adults


The results of a new study recently released by the American Cancer Society should get the attention of younger adults everywhere.

The study found that while cancer rates in people over 50 are declining, incidences of colorectal cancers among younger adults have been steadily increasing over the past several generations.

The study also estimates that about 13,500 new cases of colon and rectal cancers will be diagnosed in Americans under 50 this year.

While we marked Clinical Trial Awareness Week the first week in May, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to one week or month to discuss the importance of clinical trials or the need to increase awareness of colorectal cancer.

Much of the breakthrough research giving hope to millions is happening right here at home.

Colon cancer life expectancy has increased by 36 percent due in large part to the leading role Texas biopharmaceutical researchers play in the fight against colorectal cancer.

To date, more than 2,600 clinical trials are taking place in Texas for new cancer medications and treatments, 113 of which are directed at combating colon cancer — more than twice the number of colon cancer clinical trials taking place in any other state.

For instance, in Dallas, researchers are developing a cutting-edge antibody drug to detect and target the cancerous colorectal tumor without destroying healthy cells.

Others are working on cancer-fighting vaccines, targeted therapy drugs and immunotherapy treatments, the latter of which uses the body’s own immune system to beat cancer.

Still more scientists are investigating new ways to improve surgery techniques and early detection tests, to help patients’ health through dietary supplements and to combine chemotherapy with other, newer treatments.

When colorectal cancer is detected at an early stage, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent, according to ACS estimates.

However, colorectal cancer has traditionally been considered a threat primarily in our older years, as its frequency is thought to increase with age.

Because of this, preventative colonoscopies are rarely prescribed before the age of 50, especially without a familial history of colorectal cancer.

Since the medical community is not conditioned to expect a colorectal cancer diagnosis in younger patients, those in their 20’s and 30’s are more likely to be diagnosed later in the course of the disease, when the cancer may be more advanced and less treatable.

To combat this increase in cancer rates, young adults must quickly become familiar with the warning signs of colorectal cancer.

As unpopular as it is to discuss, anemia, blood in stool, changes in bowel habits and recurring digestive irregularities or pain are all potential symptoms.

It is also important to know your family history and share it with your primary care physician.

Other preventative measures include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, nutritious diet and getting plenty of exercise.

Obesity, smoking, heavy use of alcohol and sedentary lifestyles are associated with an increased risk of developing the disease.

As awareness about the risks of colorectal cancer increases, groundbreaking biopharmaceutical advancements in cancer treatments and early detection are helping patients lead longer, more productive lives.

According to the ACS, cancer death rates have declined 25 percent in the past two decades, resulting in 2.1 million fewer deaths in that time.

Thanks to the scientific growth and innovation taking place in Texas and across the country, colorectal cancer patients have more hope than ever that this disease will someday be preventable, treatable and beatable.

Kent Hance is a former U.S. congressman and currently serves as Chancellor Emeritus of the Texas Tech University System and chair of the We Work For Health Texas alliance. Tom Kowalski is president and CEO of the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute and serves as vice chair of We Work For Health Texas.

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