Learning About Colorectal Cancer
- Stage 4 colorectal cancer survivor Andria Devlin, 48, struggled with constipation and “mucuosy substances” and blood in her stool.
- She is reassuring others that these seemingly embarrassing symptoms are nothing to be afraid of.
- Both Devlin and our experts agree that there should never be a stigma around colorectal cancer, or cancer that begins in the colon or rectum.
- People should feel comfortable discussing the disease, talking about potential symptoms and prioritizing screenings.
- Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include: a change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation 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, blood in the stool, cramping or abdominal pain and fatigue.
- Screening for colorectal cancer is recommended to begin at age 45.
Devlin was used to constipation, so irregular bowel movements were never a surprise. But when “mucuosy substances” appeared in her stool in 2016, she grew concerned. Then came the “intermittent bleeding with my bowel movements.”Read More
“A subsequent scan showed that it grew just a tiny bit,” she said. “I had stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) on that spot in February of 2018 — five sessions over five days.
“You don’t move during this therapy — they make a mold of your body so you lay in a very specific position every single time. I have two boys so I liked to think about ‘Star Wars’ while the machine was doing its thing — like “pew pew” lasers zapping my cancer spot.”
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Sadly, another spot appeared on her right lung in January 2020, so another round of SBRT followed. But fast forward to today, and Devlin is doing much better. Her scans and lab results have since stayed consistently clear, and she’s been taking in all of life’s precious moments. Since her diagnosis, she’s seen all of her children graduate from high school and celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary.
“My next checkboxes are our oldest son’s college graduation, U.S. Army graduation ceremonies for our youngest and navigating an empty nest. I’ll keep adding checkboxes to my list,” she said. “I’m just making lots of memories, raising awareness and living my life to the fullest.”
Devlin’s story was originally published in 2022, but the news outlet has since added an update a year later.
“The response I received since this article was published in 2022 was life-changing and a little overwhelming at times,” she explained. “People reached out from around the world with notes of encouragement, stories of losing loved ones and gratitude for inspiring them to call the doctor after experiencing symptoms.
“People don’t want to go to the doctor and say, ‘I’ve got mucus in my poop. What’s that about?’ But people should not die from embarrassment. If I can talk about my experience and that gets one person to the doctor before I went to the doctor, I have done my job. For all those readers who are newly diagnosed or in the thick of treatment, let my story be your shoulder to lean on. My story is your hope.”
More: Colorectal Cancer Survivors
- Woman, 37, Went to Urgent Care With Stomach Pains and Told to Eat Fiber – She Got Colon Cancer Diagnosis 8 Months Later: ‘I’m Stronger Than What I Seem’
- New Mom, 38, Thought She Pulled a Muscle Carrying Her Baby — But It Was Colon Cancer
- Teen Thought Bleeding Was From Hemorrhoids — It Was Stage 4 Colon Cancer: How Her Brave Positivity Helped Her Beat Disease That More Young People Are Getting
- Beloved ‘Return to Amish’ Mom Mary Schmucker’s Colon Cancer Battle: What We Know About Her Journey and Not Returning for New Season
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancers begin in the colon or the rectum – so some people just use the term colon or rectal cancer depending on where the disease began.
People might associate colorectal cancer warriors with older ages, but the patient population landscape is changing. The American Cancer Society says the average age at the time of diagnosis for colon cancer is 68 for men and 72 for women. For rectal cancer, it is age 63 for both men and women.
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But more and more younger people, like Andria Devlin, are being diagnosed colorectal cancer nowadays, with recently published colorectal cancer statistics saying “one in five new cases” are now occurring in people in their early 50s or younger.
The Rate of Colon Cancer Is Increasing in People under 50
“Colon cancer in the United States, across all age groups, has been decreasing over the last 20 years,” colorectal surgeon Dr. Heather Yeo previously told SurvivorNet. “And that’s most likely due to screening of colonoscopy.
“However, the only age group it’s not been going down in is the age group under 50.”
Colorectal cancers tend to be more aggressive and found at later stages in younger adults, but Dr. Yeo assured us that “they are not necessarily more fatal if they are caught early.”
Since colorectal cancers can be prevented when polyps are found early and more younger people are getting the disease, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recently updated its colorectal cancer screening recommendations to begin at age 45 instead of 50. But research suggests a tailored approach to screening, based on your lifestyle and family history, may be most beneficial. So, even if you’re not yet 45, it’s important to discuss your risk level and recommended screening protocols with your doctors.
“For all those readers who are newly diagnosed or in the thick of treatment, let my story be your shoulder to lean on. My story is your hope.”
Knowing the Signs of Colorectal Cancer
Another aspect of colorectal cancer prevention and early diagnosis relies on peoples’ willingness to speak up about any symptoms and advocate for their health.
“This is not an easy topic to talk about, but it’s so important,” Andria Devlin said. “People should not die from embarrassment, and I think people are dying because they don’t want to go to their doctor and talk about the symptoms. It took me a long time to go in and say something is not right.”
In a similar vein, Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, wants people to be more comfortable talking about colorectal cancer and getting necessary screenings.
“I always like to make everybody say the words colon, rectum and anus,” Dr. Murrell previously told SurvivorNet. “And often people laugh and people giggle, but then I tell them that you shouldn’t die from fear, and you shouldn’t die from embarrassment.
“And that’s really the only two reasons that people are dying from this disease today.”
According to the American Cancer Society, possible colorectal cancer symptoms can include:
- 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
All of these symptoms can be a product of issues much less serious than colorectal cancer, but you should always speak up when one or more occurs. As we’ve said before, early detection is key, and colorectal cancer can even be prevented all together if detected early enough.
“I tell patients all the time when I do their colonoscopy, we find a polyp, we take that polyp out, I say, ‘Congratulations. We prevented cancer,'” Dr. Murrell said.
Another way to prevent colorectal cancer, according to Dr. Murrell, focuses around diet.
“We don’t eat as healthy as we should,” he explained. “We need 20 to 25 grams of fiber a day to have something called a nice bowel movement.
“This is a toilet conversation that needs to be brought out to the dinner table… If we can eat enough fiber and drink enough water, that can help flush our systems of a lot of the toxins that are involved in processed foods.”
Overall, erasing the stigma of colorectal cancer is of the utmost importance. Talk with your healthcare providers about recommended screenings and lifestyle changes that can help prevent the disease. And never hesitate to bring any concerning health changes to your doctors so they can be properly investigated.
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