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Colon cancer

Mesa man warns of colon cancer dangers


For Will Foster, the first warning sign he had colorectal cancer was blood in his stool.

“I waited for about a year and it didn’t get better,” Foster said.

When it didn’t, he saw the doctor, which led to a diagnosis of stage 4 colorectal cancer about eight years ago.

The cancer was in his colon, bones and liver after a few visits to his primary care doctor, he said.

The 45-year-old Mesa resident is among a growing trend of younger people who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer that has been on the rise since the 1990s around the world.

Dr. Madappa Kundranda, a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center said during the past five years, he’s seen “increased incidents” in young patients who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer from ages 20 to 49.

The month of March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — to help bring attention to the importance of colonoscopy screenings as a way to detect colon cancer early on.

According to the American Cancer Society, the number of cases among those age 54 and younger has been steadily increasing during the past three decades. In 1995, that age group represented 11% of the total cases, while in 2019 it represented 20% of total cases.

The ACS estimated that in 2023, 153,020 people would be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 52,550 with the disease would die. Of those, 19,550 cases would be those under age 50 with 3,750 deaths in that age group.

Signs to look for

A decrease in appetite, abdominal pain and unintentional weight loss — are all symptoms, the doctor said. Blood in the stool is also a common symptom.

If symptoms don’t disappear over a few months, people should see their primary care doctor.

“If it doesn’t get better, definitely get it evaluated,” Kundranda said.

Kundranda comes into the picture after the patient has been diagnosed to help determine the next treatment steps.

If caught in the first two of four stages, colorectal cancer can be treated without radiation, Kundranda said. At stage three, radiation treatment is required.

At stage 4, the cancer has likely spread to your other organs, Kundranda said.

Other professionals — such as a dietitian and a nurse navigator — get involved to help with lifestyle changes once the patient is in the fourth stage.

While researchers don’t know why the number of cases in younger adults is rising, they do say there are contributing factors such as obesity, drinking sugar sweetened beverages and getting less Vitamin D, Kundranda said.

“We don’t know that (answer) for a fact,” he said.

Disease challenges

Since his diagnosis, Foster has had part of his lung on his right side and took out his rectum and colon, he said. He has a permanent colostomy bag.

Chemotherapy is something he expects to do the rest of his life.

“At the moment, there are two more spots left (that are cancerous),” Foster said.

Taking care of his wife and two children hasn’t been easy on his family, he said.

“I won’t lie to you, man, it was difficult getting used to dying,” Foster said. “...We cope the best we can.”

The good news for at-risk generations is that most insurance companies pay for colonoscopy screenings for those age 45 and older, Kundranda said.

But Foster’s friend — at 35 — got diagnosed with the same form of cancer.

“...The (age 45) recommendation is (BS),” Foster said. “...Stools that aren’t normal, you’ve got to get checked.”