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Colon cancer is 'not a disease...of the elderly anymore,' doctor says

Younger people aren't getting screened for certain cancers because there's still a misconception that cancer is your parents' or grandparents' disease.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Hundreds of colon cancer survivors, fighters, and advocates are gearing up to kick some butt this weekend - quite literally. Saturday, Sept. 25 is the 16th annual Kicking Butt 5K Run-Walk at Waterfront Park.

This event is an effort to bring awareness to colorectal cancer, the 3rd leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In recent years, it's begun targeting younger people in their 20s and 30s, many of who aren't finding out until later stages. 

That was the case for Amanda Blackburn in 2017.

"It's a Friday. It's 8 p.m. The doctor's calling me on my cell phone, unheard of right?" Blackburn said.

It's the call she least expected: confirming Blackburn had Stage 3 colon cancer. She was 37 with no family history of any kind. 

"It wasn't on my radar. The 'C' word wasn't a thing for me," Blackburn said.

Doctors say that's a big reason why cancer is spreading before it's found in young adults. They're not in the recommended age group for annual screenings and there's still a misconception that cancer is your parents' or grandparents' disease.

Credit: Amanda Blackburn
Amanda Blackburn surrounded by her family.

Blackburn was a mom to two girls, a restaurant owner in Louisville's south end, and active in the Kentucky Air National Guard. 

She'd been having bleeding and a change in bowel habits but blamed it on increased exercise, or possible Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). She didn't jump at the chance to talk to a doctor until an annual visit.

"If there's one person in your life you can be honest with, it should be your doctor," Blackburn said.

She was immediately referred to a Louisville gastroenterologist, Dr. Sunana Sohi.

"A lot of times when people come to me with rectal bleeding, statistically, it's probably Hemorrhoids," Dr. Sohi said. "And I tell them that, but we just don't know until we look with a colonoscopy. Then, you have peace of mind. If it's negative, great. If not, then you've caught it as early as you can."

"If you have symptoms, don't wait," Dr. Sohi said. "There are a lot of tests that can be done, including stool tests, but the number one, the gold standard is colonoscopy. That's because it's not only diagnostic but preventative, where we can find and remove small polyps before they become cancer."

But Dr. Sohi points to a troubling trend, one doctors nationwide are seeing with their younger patients, as young as their 20's. They're getting diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer rather than early. 

"It's not a condition of the elderly anymore. It should be on everyone's radar," Dr. Sohi said.

While the recommended screening age is 45, there are reasons to get it done sooner. 

Dr. Sohi said if you have any of the following symptoms or family history, you should get screened - regardless of your age:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bleeding
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Weight loss

Blackburn was lucky. Even after multiple rounds of chemo and radiation, a surgery that resulted in a temporary ileostomy and early onset menopause, today, there's no evidence of her cancer.

"I try to live every day like it's my last. Find the silver linings always," she said. "There were so many positive things about my cancer diagnosis. The people and love and humbleness and the goodness you see in the community. Your friends and family, they step up. You see what you're made of," Blackburn said.

The Colon Cancer Prevention Project is behind this weekend's Kicking Butt 5K Run/Walk. You can join in Saturday on the Big Four Lawn. The first race begins at 9 a.m.

Contact reporter Brooke Hasch atbhasch@whas11.com. Follow her onTwitter (@WHAS11Hasch) andFacebook.


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