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Colorectal Cancer Day at the Capitol takes aim at cancer in Louisiana

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BATON ROUGE - More than two-thousand flags were planted in the lawn in front of the capitol steps Thursday for the n annual Colorectal Cancer Day at the Capitol.

Each flag represented a diagnosed case of colorectal cancer in Louisiana this year. About 60% of those people will be diagnosed with late stage colorectal cancer.

A silent killer, Louisiana is the fifth deadliest state for colorectal cancer and the 11th deadliest for people under the age of 50. This year in Louisiana, there will be over 2,500 estimated new cases of colorectal cancer and 860 estimated deaths. And in a frightening trend, the number of cases among younger adults is rising.

"Screening for colorectal cancer used to be at the age of 50, and now because we see a movement in the trend of colorectal cancer being diagnosed in earlier ages, we now recommend screening starting at 45 for average risk individuals," Dr. John Lyons, a surgical oncologist at Our Lady of the Lake, said at the event.

Four years ago, Michael Herpin was diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer. He put off seeing someone about his symptoms for almost a year before visiting a doctor just a week after his 24th birthday. Now he says he's one of the lucky ones.

"I was lucky, I was young, healthy, stage three...it's gone, but some others might not be as lucky," Herpin said. "Five years ago I was one of those blue flags, but today I'm happy and healthy."

Experts aren't sure why there's an increase in young adults getting colon cancer. Screening is a priority, it should happen for everyone between the ages of 45 and 70, but people should always be on the lookout for symptoms.

"Some of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer could be changes in bowel habits, bloody bowel movements, unexplained weight loss, abdominal distention, changes in eating habits," Lyons said.

Doctors hope more awareness of the symptoms will encourage those who experience them to seek medical care so that the disease can be caught earlier, when it's more treatable. Those experiencing symptoms should talk with their doctor if they are experiencing symptoms or have a family history of colon cancer.

"If we can find colorectal cancer in its early stages, then it's often curable, at advanced stage disease it becomes much more difficult to cure and requires a lot more treatment," Lyon said.


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