Fox 4 investigates: Colon cancer in the younger generation
SOUTHEAST TEXAS —
At the age of 27, Kesha Wagner couldn't believe what her doctor was telling her.
"I was diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer. I was worried when they first diagnosed me with stage three, because that was kind of aggressive to hear first," says Wagner.
Almost a year before her diagnosis, she was suffering from blood in her stool and extreme intestinal pain. She decided she needed to see a doctor.
"I was diagnosed with hemorrhoids for nine months. She told me they were internal hemorrhoids," says Wagner.
Six months later, the pain continued. She went back to the doctor and was diagnosed with the cancer.
"In my head I was thinking the first nine months I was diagnosed could we have caught it earlier, the treatments could have been easier, not as hard on my body," says Wagner.
This type of misdiagnosis is happening more and more.
Doctors are detecting the cancer that usually targets people over the age of 50, but now, it's attacking the younger generation.
"Over the past five years, I have probably seen 10 patients who are younger than the age of 50. For those who are millennials, I will say probably three," says Dr. Andy Chen, who is an oncologist with Texas Oncology.
Chen says colon cancer is considered the third leading cause of new cases in the United States and second leading cause of deaths.
According to a study by the American Cancer Society, about 11,000 people in their 40's were diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013, 4,000 people were under the age of 40.
Dr. Chen says it's unclear why this trend is happening.
"Most colorectal cancer presents without any symptoms and that's the scary part," says Dr. Chen. "There are no symptoms in the beginning, especially for a young person, you have a good reserve, healthy, you are able to mask any symptoms."
But if a person does experience symptoms, this is what to expect:
"They can develop rectal bleeding, blood in the stools, or change in bowl movement such as constipation of diarrhea, weight loss, unintentional weight loss, fatigue anemia, changes in your energy levels," says Dr. Chen.
But even with these symptoms in young adults, it's still hard to tell if it's colon or rectal cancer.
"The real problem with a young person diagnosed with colon and rectal cancer is because first, there's a low index of suspicion, and so their diagnosis and treatment are delayed," says Dr. Chen.
That explains why Wagner's doctor misdiagnosed her.
"The reason she didn't move faster was because of my age," says Wagner. "I never thought it was cancer."
Wagner went through a round of chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment got rid of her tumors but she decided to have surgery to remove part of her colon and now she now wears a colostomy bag.
"That doesn't bother me because in my head, it's either live with the bag or take the chance and risk it," says Wagner.
The effects of cancer never go away.
"The first reaction is always with some sadness because they carry the burden early on," says Dr. Chen. "Once you're diagnosed with cancer, it lives with you. You may be cured, but you'll always live with the burden of cancer."
Wagner says she's not thinking about that burden,
"It didn't change what I do. I love to go to the zydeco, I love to ride ATVs," says Wagner. "It didn't change anything. You just learn how to cope with it and live with it and keep your head up."