Several years after his initial diagnosis, Kevin Hays says his mission is to create education and awareness about colorectal cancer.
"I talk to people about symptoms, screenings, and I really try to encourage treatment," said Hays.
While battling late-stage colorectal cancer, Hays is involved in an organization called "Never Too Young" and spends his time advocating for people fighting for their lives.
"I mean, if someone told me that I had a strong likelihood of not having to go through chemo, that's the path I would take,” Hays said.
According to the American Cancer Society, there has been a 51% increase in colorectal cancer among people under the age of 50 since 1994. New cases and death rates in younger adults under 50 have increased almost 2%.
Because of that, the American Cancer Society is recommending people of average risk start getting screened when they're 45 -- that's a drop from previous guidelines of 50 years old. Doctors say symptoms shouldn't be ignored.
"Constipation, diarrhea, symptoms that don't seem to be resolving, unexplained weight loss, blood in your stool, these things are supposed to be going away and if they don't go away you should be alerting your doctor," Dr. Steven Nurkin said, a surgical oncologist at Roswell Park.
Dr. Nurkin says some lifestyle risk factors to developing colorectal cancer include smoking, consuming alcohol, obesity, and diets high in processed meat. He says he wants people to realize this is not just something affecting older adults anymore. If you have a colon, you're at risk.
"Go out and get your screening, again, people dread the bowel prep and dread the test but at the end of the day one or two days of inconvenience can save your life," Nurkin added.
While researchers can see the rise in diagnosis and death rates in younger people, they work every day to figure out why.