Colon cancer rising among young adults 20-49 years old
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Doctors can’t emphasize enough the importance of screening. The recommendation is 45-years-old, but it some cases it can be done even earlier.
“Thirty-one weeks pregnant on my husband’s birthday,” that’s when Amanda Webb found out she had stage 4 colon cancer. She was only 37 years old.
“I was cared for, my baby was cared for. I started chemo the very next week. A chemo port was placed and I did three rounds of chemo to start off treatment in-patient while I was pregnant.”
“All I could think about is I want to be there for the baby. Thank goodness I responded well to treatment. The tumors shrunk with the chemo. I delivered my baby by c-section about three weeks early,” she added.
Her son, Levi is a healthy boy.
After surgery and more chemo, there’s no sign of cancer. Still, Amanda has to get a CT scan every three months.
But some colon cancers are more aggressive than others. Case in point, Mariana Gantus-Wall who was also pregnant and very young.
“She was diagnosed at 37, she would not have been eligible for a colonoscopy at that point,” explained Jeanice Gantus whoe remembers her sister being in great pain.
“They made the decision to deliver the baby, clear the sepsis and remove the portion of her colon that was affected by the cancer,” said Gantus.
Despite that, Mariana died one year after initially being diagnosed.
There are a number of risk factors for colon cancer.
“We are exposed to a diet that is higher in sugar and higher in processed foods, a sedentary life style and obesity are also factors,” outlined Dr. Katherine Van Loon, who is with the UCSF Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.
But none of those applied to Amanda and Mariana.
“She exercised, she ate very well, she took care of herself,” reveals Marina’s sister.
Amanda, the second patient, is a marathon runner. She advises everyone to look for symptoms.
“They can’t be afraid to talk about their bowel movement, they can’t let doctors dismiss their symptoms, they need to know the symptoms,” she explained.
“Changes in bowel habits, blood in their stool, narrowing of their stools, unexplained anemia or iron deficiency,” added Dr. Van Loon.
Another of her patients is Jamie Comer who had no symptoms. A routine blood test found elevated liver enzymes.
“I was told that I had stage 4 colon cancer which had metastasized to my liver and I had 45 tumors on my left side and 12 tumors on my right side and that I would likely die in three to six months,” said Comer who was diagnosed in 2016. At the time, the recommended age for a colonoscopy was 50. She was only 47.
“The power of having children. I had an 8-year-old I did not have permission to go,” expressed Comer.
She asked us to record her chemo session because she wants everyone to know the possible implications of not getting tested.
She is in a room alone, at UCSF.
“Total time spent here is anywhere from 8 to 11 hours. I am on chemo for three days every other week,” Comer explained.
The chemo takes a huge toll.
“Low energy, vaguely nauseous and I feel like my insides are burning up. I feel hot.”
Comer says she is alive today because of an infusion pump implanted in her abdomen which delivers the chemo directly to her liver.
“UCSF is practically the only hospital on the West Coast that does this. It’s an implant pump, and they fill it with a medicine with a very large needle,” she tells us as she points to the area in her abdomen where the pump is located.
“If you think getting a colonoscopy is unpleasant and it takes time, I mean it’s nothing compared to being on chemo the rest of your life. I think that people don’t realize that it’s not just a test, it’s being able to be with your family,” Comer reminds us.