Misdiagnosis of Colorectal Cancer Persists in Younger Patients

Research that will be presented at the American Association of Cancer Research Annual Meeting found that young patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) may often experience an initial misdiagnosis.

Researchers surveyed 1,195 patients with CRC and survivors aged 20 to 49 years, most of whom were from the United States. More than half of survey respondents (57%) were diagnosed between 40 and 49 years of age; a third were diagnosed between 30 and 39 years of age; about 10% were diagnosed at younger than 30 years. Approximately 30% of respondents had a family history of CRC, and 8% said they had been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome.

Misdiagnosis in younger patients

While most patients with CRC who are older than 50 years are diagnosed in the early stages of disease, many younger patients and survivors surveyed in the study (71%) said they were diagnosed at stages 3 and 4.

Many patients and survivors (63%) waited three to 12 months before visiting a physician for their symptoms. In addition, 67% of the respondents said they saw at least two physicians before receiving a correct diagnosis of CRC.

CRC can be difficult to diagnose because many of the related symptoms (e.g., constipation, weight loss, and fatigue) can be associated with other conditions. “Physicians may attribute patients’ symptoms to more common conditions, like hemorrhoids or inflammatory bowel syndrome, and may lack the urgency to refer patients to tests that may identify early-stage CRC,” Ronit Yarden, PhD, MHSA, director of medical affairs at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

The study is limited by its reliance on self-reported information, which could introduce bias.