It's a deadly disease you'd expect to strike older adults. However, Tampa Bay area doctors are reporting a spike in colon cancer in younger people.
Doctors say people in their 30's and 40's are especially at risk.
"Oh, it was a complete shock," Josh Hastings said. "No one plans for cancer."
Hastings is a physical education teacher at Florida College Academy. He coaches students on living healthy lives but was forced to focus on his own health.
Hastings, now 37, was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago. He and his wife Andrea just had their son, Connor, and Josh had a medical problem he could no longer ignore.
For months, he had blood in his stool and finally told his doctor. A colonoscopy confirmed Josh had stage three colon cancer.
"I kind of felt like I drew the short straw of all short straws. I don't carry the gene; It's not in my family," he said.
Josh needed aggressive chemo, radiation and surgery. For months, he'd use a colostomy bag. Josh said at that moment reality set in.
"That scared me really bad. I, in fact, I think about passed out," he said.
"Most people would say, ‘Oh no, they're too young to have colon cancer,'" said Dr. Jorge Marcet, a USF Health colorectal surgeon at Tampa General Hospital. "Sadly, that's not true anymore."
He believes colon cancer is on the rise because of changing environments and diets filled with more red and processed meat.
"In the 30's, we start seeing it more commonly - late 30's far more common; 40's we're seeing that regularly," notes Marcet.
Marcet first told FOX 13 about this disturbing trend back in 2009. Since then, he's determined it's a nationwide problem. He's treated patients as young as 17 years old.
Patients, like Josh, are fighting more aggressive and advanced forms of the disease. Those in their 40's concern him the most.
"The numbers doubled. In other words, there was a 100 percent increase. We were shocked to find it was that high," Marcet said. "You say to yourself, 'Wow, this could have been prevented or the cancer could have been caught at a much earlier stage.'"
The best bet for that is a screening colonoscopy. People with symptoms can get a colonoscopy at any age. But for those with no symptoms, screening begins at 50. For African American men, it begins at age 45.
Dr. Marcet believes that age guideline needs to change to age 40 for everyone.
For Josh, his fight with cancer actually has an unsettling twist. Ten years before his cancer diagnosis, he had the opportunity to get a colposcopy.
"It's just not a manly thing to do," Josh said, explaining his feelings then about the colonoscopy. "It's a comprising exam, and it is embarrassing."
Josh was 23, just married and had persistent stomach trouble. At the time, the cancer was most likely a small polyp, precancerous, and easily removable.
Josh and his wife Andrea believe skipping that colonoscopy was a mistake - a mistake they don't want others to make.
"That never occurred to me that was something we needed to set as a priority, and it absolutely would have made all the difference," Andrea told us.
"You are not too young. Nobody likes going to the doctor," Josh said.
He's been cancer free for five years.
His advice: "Just go get checked. Don't put it off. Don't be embarrassed. Don't be scared. It's really not that bad."
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