Cancer rates rising in young adults

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Maisie Fisher, 22, has been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia since she was diagnosed last May and is now in remission for the second time.

“I had all these plans for my senior year of college with my best friend,” she said. “All the adventures we were going to do. That all kind of just stopped.”

As a young adult between the ages of 15 and 39, she’s part of what St. Francis Oncologist Hal Crosswell calls a lost tribe. 

“They’ve sort of been left behind some of the advancements in care, to some degree in outcomes,” he said. “[The rate of] colorectal cancers [are] rising in the young population. The factors and why that is, we don’t know.”

He’s directing the new Hawkins Family Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Center inside Bon Secours St. Francis’ downtown Greenville hospital campus, which was designed specifically for teens and young adults. In the center, his team will conduct clinical trials and research studies to better understand how and why cancer is affecting this age group.

“We think it’s probably genetics because ultimately cancer is a disease of genetics,” Dr. Crosswell said.

Sedentary lifestyles and a nationwide obesity crisis may be playing a role in the increase, he added.

“An anti-inflammatory diet helps prevent breast cancer for instance, or reduces the incidence of breast cancer,” he said. An anti-inflammatory diet includes high intake of virgin olive oil, vegetables, fruits, plant proteins, fish and other seafood, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy, accompanied by moderate alcohol intake and low red meat consumption.

The number one thing he says teens and young adults need to do for cancer prevention is make sure they are seeing a family physician regularly.

“Delayed diagnosis occurs more frequently in the AYA population, he said. “Young adults, very few of them, have a primary care physician, and that is so critical and key.”

With plans to finish college, Fisher recently got engaged at St. Francis and had this piece of advice for other young adults battling cancer:

“[Don’t] worry so much about what the future looks like. It’s important to get well now,” she said.

Dr. Crosswell said breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in this age group of people ages 15 to 39. So if you have a family history of breast cancer and you’re in that age group, he recommended checking in regularly with your doctor.

Local donors funded the Hawkins Family Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Center, along with Hawkins Family, First Citizens Bank and Teen Cancer America.

The Who’s lead singer Roger Daltrey and bandmate Pete Townshend founded Teen Cancer America and Daltrey even visited the center Tuesday to celebrate its dedication and opening.

If you have a health question you’d like to submit for our series, click here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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