Colon cancer survivor aims to help other younger people with diagnosis
2023 marks 15 years since doctors told Kim Newcomer she had stage four colon cancer.
“It was overwhelming. It’s a life-changing diagnosis,” she said. “No one told me that I would even have the possibility of losing sexual function, or I’ll lose the feeling in my hands and feet from all the radiation treatments.”
A recent report from the American Cancer Society shows 1 in 5 new colon or colorectal cancer patients are in their early 50s and younger.
“In my practice, there’s an increasing number of patients who are younger than me,” Dr. Mark Hanna said. “I’m 38 years old, and I would have never imagined that I would have patients who are younger than me, and I’m treating them for colorectal cancer.”
Hanna is a colorectal cancer surgeon with City of Hope.
“It’s definitely eye-opening and really scary, to be honest with you, because this is not something that we ever suspected in young people, and it just shows us that we have a lot of work to do to really target and treat this particular population,” Hanna said.
The suggested age for colon cancer screenings lowered to 45 in 2021, but targeting younger patients is a challenge.
Colon cancer rates dropping, but not among young adults
Doctors say there has been a steady increase in Americans under age 55 being treated for colon cancer.
“I kind of went to the doctor on and off for 11 months before I was finally diagnosed through a chest x-ray because I had a cough that wouldn’t go away,” Newcomer said.
“The disease does have a stigma,” said Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. “For colonoscopy, it’s taking something where the sun don’t shine. And I think for a lot of people, you know, humor helps just get across a subject that is really taboo.”
The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is trying to reach younger folks with that humor — and celebrity, recently pulling in Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
“We saw 34% increase in the number of colonoscopies that were booked during the month after the campaign,” Sapienza said.
Colonoscopy or stool tests are among the most common screenings, but depending on insurance coverage, they can get pricey — to the tune of hundreds of dollars.
The American Cancer Society notes an initial screening should be free, but removing polyps may cost a deductible and co-pay.
Doctors say in the meantime, make sure to watch for the red-flag symptoms.
“Progressive constipation, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain that is persistent or change in bowel habits that lasts for three or more months,” Hanna said.
Newcomer, meanwhile, is a survivor. She turns 50 this month and now works for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Her diagnosis changed her life in more ways than one.
“It doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she said. “If I can help save one life, that’s all that matters to me. That’s why I do this and help other survivors going through treatment.”
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