NewsLocal News


Colorectal cancer is steadily rising among young people

Posted at 5:36 PM, Mar 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-26 20:36:53-04

(KGTV) — Doctors in San Diego and across the country say colorectal cancer is steadily rising among young people.

Just last week, Kate Middleton announced her diagnosis. The type of cancer hasn't been announced, but doctors are seeing a rise in colorectal cancer in patients under the age of fifty.

A San Diego father knows the shock of that diagnosis all too well.

Corey Ziegler says he started having stomach issues, including constipation, back in 2018. His son, Jackson, had just turned a year old.

"They thought at first, since I was fairly young, that it probably wasn't anything too serious, but they suggested a colonoscopy just to take a look," said Ziegler.

It turned out to be very serious. The forty-year-old new dad had colon cancer.

"It was definitely a big shock. The doctor said it was not going to be a quick or easy thing, that I was definitely in for a battle," said Ziegler.

That battle included a year of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to remove the tumor.

Six months later, a follow-up scan showed the cancer was back, and it was in multiple locations.

"The type of cancer that I had doesn't respond very well, I guess, to chemotherapy," said Ziegler.

Diagnosed now with metastatic stage four colon cancer, Ziegler was looking for alternative treatments.

"That's when we got in touch with Dr. Sigal, and he changed pretty much everything for me," said Ziegler.

Dr. Darren Sigal is the director of Gastrointestinal Oncology at Scripps Clinic. Rather than continue with more chemo, he opted to try immunotherapy.

"We did molecular testing on the tumor. We determined that his tumor would potentially respond to immunotherapy," said Dr. Sigal.

Ziegler had IV immunotherapy every two weeks for two years.

"Little by little, over two years, they were shrinking and shrinking and getting smaller and smaller. It was clear evidence that the medication, the immunotherapy was doing its job," said Ziegler.

At the time, immunotherapy was relatively new and primarily used to treat melanoma and some lung cancers.

"Immunotherapy has really been a revolution in treating cancer in general," said Dr. Sigal.

Colorectal cancers have been steadily rising in people younger than 55. According to the American Cancer Society, the diagnoses are up roughly 25% since 1995.

"I think it's probably some combination of environmental as well as genetic factors," said Dr. Sigal.

Colorectal cancer is now the number one cause of cancer-related death for men under 50 and the number two cause for women. Just 20 years ago, it was the number four cause of death for both age groups.

Doctors say it's important not to ignore symptoms in young people.

"I think the bar for suspicion should be much lower than it has been in the past," said Dr. Sigal.

Ziegler finished his treatment two years ago and has been cancer-free for two years.

"I really think there is something to that old adage, if you put your mind to it, you can do anything," said Ziegler.

"He had stage 4 colon cancer, colorectal cancer, and he may be cured, and this is really what's the most exciting part of medical oncology," said Dr. Sigal.

Ziegler gets scans every six months, but he's not dwelling on the possibility of his cancer coming back. He's focused on his six-year-old son.

"I'm coaching my son's flag football team. We go on hikes. We play sports. I get to be a dad, and that's really what I care about," said Ziegler."