- A woman, 36, was diagnosed with bowel cancer after developing anemia symptoms.
- Carla Mitchell later learned she had a genetic condition that predisposed her to some cancers.
A 36-year-old woman discovered she had bowel cancer after an anemia diagnosis led to further testing.
In January 2021, when Carla Mitchell, from the UK, was experiencing a rapid heartbeat, achy legs, and became short of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, she initially assumed she was entering menopause, she told the charity Bowel Cancer UK. The early stages of menopause can begin as early as your 30s but most people notice changes in their early 40s.
Although it turned out she was anemic, both Mitchell and her doctor believed there was no reason to worry as she was young. But the results of a cautionary colonoscopy, a test where a camera goes through the anus, rectum, and colon, led to her being diagnosed with bowel cancer. Anemia is found in up to 75% of bowel cancer patients.
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Banishing the stigma around bowel cancer being for older people
In April 2022, Mitchell learned that she had Lynch syndrome after consulting with a genetic counselor. The inherited condition increases a person's risk of getting certain types of cancer, including bowel, womb, and ovarian cancers.
She now feels passionate about educating people on Lynch syndrome, as well as recognizing the signs of bowel cancer.
"It's about banishing the stigma around bowel cancer being an older person's disease," she told Insider via email.
Bowel cancer is becoming more common in young people
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the US, according to the American Cancer Society.
The disease is typically associated with older people, but cases in younger people have been steadily rising for decades. One in five new cases are in people in their early 50s or younger, the ACS's latest figures show.
Changes in bowel movements like constipation or diarrhea, as well as abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and blood in stools, can all be early signs of bowel cancer. Although it is also common to show no symptoms until the cancer has grown or spread, making screening a crucial part of preventing the disease, per the ACS.
Catching the cancer early makes it more treatable and according to Bowel Cancer UK, almost everyone diagnosed at the earliest stage survives.
Bowel cancer treatment can include keyhole surgery
After she was diagnosed with bowel cancer, Mitchell had keyhole surgery that lasted just over four hours, she told Insider.
During the procedure, known as a hemicolectomy, doctors removed the tumor and surrounding lymph nodes. Around a third of her intestine was removed and the ends were joined together.
Prior to this, Mitchell thought that her cancer was stage one, which means it has not spread outside the bowel wall and is easier to treat. But after the removed lymph nodes were biopsied, she was told that it had progressed to stage three, which means the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes. This led to her needing three rounds of chemotherapy.
Mitchell's treatment was successful and she is now in remission. She will have regular blood tests and CT scans for the next five years and yearly colonoscopies for the rest of her life due to her Lynch syndrome.