Roanoke woman among rising number of younger Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Meighan Sharp is an Artist in Residence at Carilion Roanoke Memorial, a program featuring local artists who provide art activities for patients, demonstrations in waiting areas, and workshops for staff.

She shares her talents as a writer with patients in oncology or palliative care, a type of specialized medical care for people with serious illness.

"It was something hopeful and something different than always being in the medical kind of setting," she said.

She understands what it's like being in the hospital facing a serious illness.

"I had been experiencing bleeding on and off very rarely for about a year. The doctor suggested it might be hemorrhoids," Sharp recalled.

At age 44, well below the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening age of 50, Sharp didn't worry. At least not until the symptoms didn't stop.

A positive fecal occult blood test and colonoscopy followed.

"The colonoscopy had a cancerous polyp," she said.

Sharp had surgery two months later and was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer because it had gone to her lymph nodes.

While the majority of colorectal cancers are found in people over age 50, a new study from the American Cancer Society shows the rates rising in people in their 40s, 30s, and even 20s. Compared to people born around 1950, those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of developing rectal cancer.

"I probably waited longer than I should have to make a little fuss because I was younger and it's my understanding was that it was rare. And it is rare. But I've really become such an advocate," said Sharp.

The study suggests increased awareness and considering screening before age 50.

Sharpe is now advocating for just that.

"I think people just have to be aware of what's normal for their bodies and be aware if there some kind of a change," she said. "I didn't want to go in and make a fuss and then have them say, 'Oh, it's nothing.' And now I realize that would be the best case scenario. You should go in."