Scott Lagasse Jr. admits he wasn’t the kind of guy who went in for regular checkups.
“I don’t do doctors very well,” he says.
But the reason the NASCAR driver is still alive today is because of a visit to his physician in 2015.
“It was a day out of my life that saved my life,” Lagasse told Healthline.
The Florida native had gone in because he felt pain in his lower abdominal area while bicycling.
His doctor told him he had colorectal cancer.
Fortunately for Lagasse, it was stage 1, and it was caught early enough that he only needed surgery to fix what could have been a life-threatening problem.
“I was 100 percent lucky. I’m normally a very stubborn person,” Lagasse said.
The race car driver also doesn’t usually talk about his personal life, but he is making an exception in the coming weeks.
He plans to speak out during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March.
The 35-year-old husband and father is hoping to convince other people in his age group to get screened for a disease that is becoming more common in his generation.
Incidence in millennials, Generation Xers
A report published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute states that people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer compared with people born in 1950.
That younger age group also has quadruple the risk of rectal cancer.
As a result, 3 in 10 rectal cancer cases in this country are now in people younger than 55.
The study, led by American Cancer Society scientists, reports that colon cancer incidence rates increased between 1 percent and 2 percent per year from the mid-1980s until 2013 in adults 20 to 39 years of age. That compares with 0.5 percent to 1 percent per year for people from 40 to 54 years of age.
For rectal cancer, the incidence rate has been rising about 3 percent a year for the past three to four decades for adults ages 20 to 39. That compares with 2 percent a year the past two decades for people 40 to 54.
The study authors note that the biggest difference between the younger and older age groups is screening.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people start getting screened for colorectal cancer at age 50.
The study authors say that minimum screening age may need to be reconsidered.
“Our finding that colorectal cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s is very sobering,” Rebecca Siegel, MPH, director of surveillance information for the American Cancer Society, said in a statement. “Educational campaigns are needed to alert clinicians and the general public about this increase to help reduce delays in diagnosis, which are so prevalent in young people, but also to encourage healthier eating and more active lifestyles to try to reverse this trend.”
Getting the word out
Anjelica Davis, president of Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC), told Healthline her organization is getting the word out on screening during this awareness month.
She said people should get a checkup and use whatever screening exam they are most comfortable with.
“We don’t want you to not get tested,” she said. “The take-home tests are an option. Do the right test for you.”
Davis said people should consider getting screened before age 50 if they have a family history of colorectal cancer or if they experience rectal bleeding or pain in the lower abdominal area.
“Don’t ignore these symptoms,” she said.
Davis noted that colorectal cancer has a 90 percent cure rate if it is caught early. She said 60 percent of the annual 50,000 cancer-related deaths in the United States caused by colorectal cancer could be prevented if people go in for regular screenings.
“Screening is a lot easier than managing a treatment schedule,” she said.
Lagasse knows this all too well.
He had no family history of colon cancer, but he went in when he developed pain.
Lagasse said the fact his wife was pregnant at that time was a primary reason.
“That started to weigh on me,” he said.
At first, Lagasse kept his diagnosis and treatment secret.
But then one of his cousins called and talked to him about his screening because he was experiencing pain. It turned out his cousin did not have cancer, but he did go in and get checked.
“I came to the realization that this was a lot more important than just me,” said Lagasse.
“I didn’t do the doctor routine before,” he added. “I felt like it wasn’t the manly thing to do. I had this invincible mentality.”
That has all changed.
Lagasse now goes in for screening every year. So far, there’s no sign of the cancer coming back.