Kate Middleton, Olivia Munn cancer diagnoses highlight troubling trend among younger adults

ByDenise Dador KABC logo
Tuesday, April 2, 2024
Cancer diagnoses among younger adults highlight troubling trend
Kate Middleton and Olivia Munn's cancer diagnoses spotlight a troubling trend: an increase in cancer in young adults under 50.

Kate Middleton's and Olivia Munn's cancer diagnoses spotlight a troubling trend: an increase in cancer in young adults under 50.

Colon cancer in this population is steadily on the rise. Here's a look at the obstacles young patients have to overcome.

An unexpected diagnosis

Whether it was chemotherapy or radiation, Melisa Valenzuela of Los Angeles felt alone.

"Here I am, a 29-year-old girl. Most of the time I was the youngest person in that room," she said.

Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2021, she had no family history nor risk factors. It's why Valenzuela downplayed symptoms of severe constipation and cramps.

"I didn't have health insurance at the time, so I decided to self medicate. So I went to the pharmacy and I bought over the counter stuff. I kind of just thought it would go away," said Valenzuela.

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"They're busy with their lives. They have school, they have work, they have family and all of those things. So they put off the symptoms," said City of Hope medical oncologist Dr. Afsaneh Barzi. She said ignoring signs is the first obstacle young patients face. But, once young patients do seek care, cancer is usually the last thing a primary care or emergency physician suspects.

"They treat them for common conditions, being abdominal cramps, gastroenteritis, you know, a UTI, so on and so forth, with months and months of delay," said Barzi.

Valenzuela's cancer had spread to other organs. Barzi said what saved her was advocating for herself, seeking second opinions and finding a hospital that specializes in the care she needed.

"It was very uncommon to have a patient under the age of 30 being diagnosed with colon cancer. Nowadays, it's becoming more and more common," she said.

But why? Could it be plastic chemicals? Over processed foods? Antibacterial products changing our gut microbiome? All are theories being studied.

"Looking at the change in statistics, I would say it's definitely an environmental factor that has resulted in rising incidents in younger patients," said Barzi.

Actress Olivia Munn reveals breast cancer diagnosis

A tool that's available as an online calculator played a key role in actress Olivia Munn's discovery that she had breast cancer.

Being aware may help you make better choices. That's what Valenzuela hopes.

"Don't put your health on the back burner. I know it's really easy to do that, because we're so busy nowadays. But it's really really important to put health first," Valenzuela said.

Today, she's cancer free and looking forward to the rest of her life.