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YOUR HEALTH How one cancer is hitting at a younger age

GRAPEVINE, Texas – 44-year old Jennifer Maxwell is married with two children.

Less than a year ago, she suddenly lost 30 pounds and developed high blood pressure.

Medicine made her constipated.   She had digestive issues, rectal bleeding, and felt like she like she was sitting on a rock.

She questioned her doctor.

"I even asked her at the time, how do you know it's not something like a tumor?" she remembered.  "And I was told, that "Well, the exam looks fine, you are too young'."

A colonoscopy revealed a mass on her rectum and several spots on her liver: stage four rectal cancer.

"So of course it's absolutely heart breaking knowing that she's 44 and a mother of two, but you have to keep going," said gastroenterologist Dr. Yanthi Yalamanchili.

Colon and rectal cancers are increasing sharply among people younger than 50.

Seven chemo treatments every two weeks is reducing the size of Jennifer's tumor.

"I believe that I will get to see my children grow up and I will be able to raise them," recalled Jennifer.   "I have a strong faith in that."

The study suggests that obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, heavy alcohol use, and tobacco use could be contributing to younger cases of colorectal cancer.   The accepted guidelines of colon cancer screening at age 50 are being challenged.

"In my practice, we are starting to stress doing colonoscopies on younger people, younger than 50," said Dr. Yalamanchili.

But it's a balancing act.

"Picking the age to start is a balance where the likelihood of finding the disease outweighs the risks of harm," explained Dr. Richard C. Wender, the American Cancer Society Chief Cancer Control Officer.

"If you don`t have the disease, there is no way a screen can benefit you," he added.

"Although the harms of colon cancer screening tend to be small, when you`re screening millions of people, you`re going to have more harms."

Researchers are working to set up a new guideline for screening colorectal cancer.   In the meantime it is important to have a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruits, and maintain a healthy weight.

TREATMENT: Treatment is usually surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and biological therapy. Biological response modifiers are able to trigger the immune system to ultimately affect tumors. Biological response modifiers include cytokines (chemicals produced by cells to instruct other cells) such as interferons and interleukins. This approach involves giving larger amounts of these substances by injection or infusion in the hope of stimulating the cells of the immune system to act more efficiently. A colonoscopy is one of the things that can prevent colon cancer as it can remove abnormal growths like adenomatous polyps. In fact, many of the deaths from colon cancer result from patients who were not tested.   (Sources: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/24/the-dreaded-turning-50-test/
http://www.webmd.com/colorectal-cancer/guide/how-is-colorectal-cancer-treated )

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.