26-year-old discusses colon cancer rising in young people

HOUSTON – The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 101,000 people will get colon cancer this year. The most recent recommendation is for people to get colonoscopies at 45.

Due to more people getting colonoscopies, the rate of colon cancer is going down except in the younger age group. Doctors say colon cancer in young people (people in their 20s and 30s) is rising.

Brittany Dodson was diagnosed with colon cancer at just 26 years old and doctors think her tumor began forming when she was much younger.

“I was healthy, young and fit. How could I get this? Why? We didn't know,” Dodson said.

She has a syndrome that she didn't know she had and no one else in her family has. It causes her cells to mutate, and in this case it caused cancer.

“It was shocking. I had symptoms of abdominal pain and bleeding and they were getting more consistent and were not going away with the remedies I was trying so I was getting concerned,” Dodson said.

Dr. Putao Cen, oncologist with Memorial Hermann and UT Health said young people are not immune to colon cancer, but their symptoms are different.

Cen said young people should tell a doctor immediately if they have:

- Blood in the stool
- Check your blood count to see if you're anemic because the blood must be coming from somewhere to cause anemia
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea 
- Feel extremely fatigued or pale

Dodson thought her abdominal pain and bleeding could be from diet or hemorrhoids.

“My sleep habits, my exercise habits, everything I was doing that I thought would work was not working at all,” Dodson said.

Luckily, she didn't procrastinate taking her complaints to a doctor. The first one who heard her symptoms sent her straight to get a colonoscopy where oncologists quickly got her into chemo, then surgery. Long story short, she got the ending she prayed for, she lived.

“I'm proud to be a survivor at such a young age. That's the key, that's why I do what I do as an advocate for cancer survivors is because a lot of people don't get the chance so I’m one of the very lucky and blessed ones to be a survivor,” Dodson said.

Dodson has such a great attitude about living life now. She says “take the job, date the person, go on a trip,” and get a colonoscopy!

She's now 29 and gets a colonoscopy every year to make sure cancer has not returned. She admits the prep isn't fun, but she says she can't complain because she knows they're life-saving.

To learn more, you can also visit the National Colorectal Cancer Alliance's website here.