Understanding Colon Cancer
- Julie Luck, a local evening news anchor based in North Carolina, has been sharing her colon cancer journey to educate others about the disease and the importance of screening.
- Luck’s cancer was detected at an early stage after the 50-year-old’s husband urged her to get a routine colonoscopy. She had a successful surgery, but unfortunately her cancer spread to her lymph nodes and now she’s undergoing chemotherapy.
- Colorectal cancer screenings have made a big difference in colorectal cancer prevention. But with colorectal cancer cases in younger people on the rise, the recommended age for beginning screening has been moved from 50 to 45.
Greensboro, North Carolina, news anchor Julie Luck, who’s battling colon cancer that’s spread to her lymph nodes, is here to remind you why.Read More
“I didn’t think it could be me,” Luck said. “I don’t have any family history, and being in a high-risk category would include being a smoker or not exercising or being overweight and I don’t fall in these categories.”
Despite feeling absolutely fine and showing no symptoms, Luck was diagnosed with colon cancer after tests on a large polyp found during the colonoscopy revealed her cancer. She then underwent a successful surgery, but recently shared that her post-surgery pathology report showed that her cancer had spread to some lymph nodes. Now, she’s undergoing a three-month-long chemotherapy regimen to treat her stage 3A colon cancer.
“Honestly, my emotions have run the gamut from disbelief, anger, fear, confusion to resolve and determination,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “My doctors say my prognosis is good and with the tremendous support from my family, friends, WFMY News 2 coworkers and the community, I know I can beat this stupid thing.”
On a Mission to Educate about Colon Cancer
Luck considers her news team and viewers to be like a second family. So, throughout her cancer journey she’s been sharing details in order to educate others.
“I realized that perhaps my story could encourage other people to get their screening,” Luck said.
And though it was hard, Luck is glad she’s shared her diagnosis and treatment path with viewers and colleagues alike. She’s even had multiple people tell her she inspired them to schedule their colonoscopies – something she’s very proud of.
“I can’t stress this enough. Please get screened,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “Don’t put it off any longer or when you turn 45, schedule your colonoscopy appointment. It could be a life saver. Don’t wait until symptoms arise. In fact, don’t wait at all. I was diagnosed after a routine colonoscopy and I didn’t have any symptoms.”
Even her boss, 53-year-old WFMY news director Kim Ballard, has taken the necessary steps to take control of her health in her honor.
“I am extremely good at taking care of my husband and children, but I am not so good at taking care of myself,” Ballard admitted. “I have scheduled a mammogram and my first colonoscopy because of Julie Luck.”
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
The term colorectal cancer is used to describe cancers that begin in the colon or the rectum – so some people just use the term colon cancer if that’s where the disease began.
Colorectal cancer, like all cancers, presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo says in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Colorectal cancer might not immediately cause symptoms, but these are possible symptoms to look out for:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
It is important to note, however, that displaying some of these symptoms does not mean you have colorectal cancer. You could also have colon cancer and not display any of these symptoms. Regardless, it is important to bring up any symptoms to your doctor should they arise.
Dr. Yeo also emphasizes the importance of colorectal cancer screenings such as colonoscopies because most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo says. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Even still, colorectal cancer cases are rising among younger people. And in the United States alone, rates have increased every year from 2011 to 2016 by 2 percent among people younger than 50. Because of this increase, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated its colorectal cancer screening recommendations to begin at age 45 instead of 50.
“We know that colon cancers can be prevented when polyps are found early,” Dr. Yeo said. “Lowering the screening age helps somewhat with this. But access to care is a real problem.”
And increasing access is crucial to making sure that we don’t see racial disparities within the world of colorectal cancer. Whites and Asians are significantly more likely to be up to date with their colonoscopies than African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
Research suggests that tailoring colon cancer screenings to each person’s individual risk may be beneficial. If you are not yet 45 but have concerns about your risk, talk to your doctor. Ask about your individual risk based on your lifestyle and family history and find out when screenings would be right for you.