Doctors misdiagnosed colon cancer symptoms as “fatigue” and “hemorrhoids.”
By Emily Gushue, health correspondent for Dailymail.Com
12:57 03 February 2024, updated 12:57 03 February 2024
- Jill MacDonald, 46, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer nine years ago
- Since then, eight inches of her colon and half her liver have been removed
- Read more: Mysterious colon cancer epidemic in young people revealed
A Missouri woman has warned “healthy, active” young people to “listen to their bodies”, after doctors described colon cancer symptoms as fatigue and hemorrhoids.
Jill MacDonald was an “athletic” 36-year-old who loved physical activity and took pride in cooking nutritious, balanced meals for herself.
She never expected to be diagnosed with a disease that, in half the cases, can be attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle.
By the time Jill MacDonald’s cancer was discovered, it had spread to other organs in her body including her liver and ovaries.
Now, 10 years later, at 47, she is running out of treatment options after undergoing multiple operations and dozens of grueling rounds of chemotherapy.
“It’s not out of the question that the cancer could kill me,” Jill, a retired molecular biologist, told DailyMail.com.
But I will probably die of liver failure. “Because all of these treatments are toxic to the liver.” I’ve had to have radiation everywhere. They had surgeries and so on.
“I’m hoping I’ll last long enough for another cure to come along, and maybe something weird will happen, but I have no idea if that will happen.”
Jill’s story comes at a time when colon cancer in young adults is reaching record levels in the United States.
The disease is expected to become the leading cause of cancer deaths in people under the age of 50 by the end of the decade, according to the latest statistics.
Data from the American Cancer Society showed that cases jumped by about 10 percent in just four years.
Jill’s ordeal began in 2014, when she began having trouble sleeping and experiencing constant night sweats.
Around the same time, she started feeling “not quite right in my gut.”
“I’ve had some weird things happen to me,” she said, describing pain in her stomach and some blood in her stool.
“You can make all sorts of excuses for yourself as to why a healthy person might get any disease,” she said.
When she called her doctor about the symptoms, he blamed the blood on hemorrhoids — swollen veins in the anus and lower rectum — and said “it’s probably nothing to worry about.”
He also had concerns about poor sleep, and prescribed the sleep aid Ambien.
But soon after taking the medicine, an aching pain appeared near the liver.
“I couldn’t figure it out,” she said. I said: Is he from drinking? Is it something I eat that is causing this pain? Even just placing my arms at my sides felt really uncomfortable.
“And that kept me going back to my doctor.”
In the fall of 2014, Ms. McDonald met a physician assistant whose mother-in-law had just been diagnosed with cancer, which she believes made him even more motivated to find out the cause of her symptoms.
“He basically said he wouldn’t rest until he knew what was going on,” she said..
An abdominal ultrasound and CT scan revealed about 20 lesions throughout the liver and lymph nodes, and a colonoscopy showed a one-centimeter lesion in the sigmoid colon, the lower part of the colon.
Jill’s medical team is unsure why she was experiencing liver pain while taking Ambien and assumes the drug somehow irritated her larger tumor.
In January 2015, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.
Her grandfather was also diagnosed with colon cancer when he was under 50 years old. He died a few years later.
Her father and sister also have a history of polyps, which are small masses of cells that form in the lining of the colon.
Most of the time, these are harmless, although they can develop into cancerous cells. Removing them can help prevent the risk of colon cancer.
“I came to find out it could be family history.”
“Maybe I should have paid more attention. There’s a lot of cancer on both sides. All of us kids always joked, ‘Oh, we’re going to get cancer at some point.’
“I never thought that at the age of 37 I would be diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.”
Colorectal cancer rates are rising worldwide, causing an epidemic among young people.
Rates in young people are expected to double by 2030, and colorectal cancer is also expected to become the leading cause of cancer death in people under 50 years of age by the end of the decade.
This is based on data from JAMA Surgery, which found that between 2010 and 2030, colon cancer will increase by 90% in people aged 20 to 34 years. Rectal cancer will rise by 124% in the same age group.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type in the United States and the third leading cause of death among men and women.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about 153,000 cases of colorectal cancer will be detected in 2023, including 19,500 cases among those younger than 50 years.
About 53,000 people are expected to die from the disease this year.
Experts are still working to uncover the cause of this devastating epidemic. They have typically blamed unhealthy diets, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyles for this shift.
A study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic indicated that eating red meat and sugar could lead to an increased chance of young people developing colorectal cancer.
In addition, the use of antibiotics has been shown to affect this risk.
One study published in the journal Gut found that long-term antibiotic use increases the risk of colon cancer in the early stages. However, it has also been associated with a lower risk of rectal cancer.
One study showed that the fungus Cladosporium sp. It was more common in tumors in young patients than in older patients.
It is still unclear how Cladosporium sp. It could lead to this increase in cases, but researchers believe it could lead to damage to the cell’s DNA. This may cause them to turn into cancer cells.
Jill soon began six rounds of chemotherapy, during which a tumor grew in her right ovary.
“I think that’s when they realized that we probably wouldn’t be able to wait to get a lot of treatment and maybe try the surgical approach.”
In May 2015, doctors removed about eight inches of Jill’s colon and several tumors in her liver.
She also underwent a total hysterectomy, where the entire uterus and cervix are removed, to prevent tumor growth in her reproductive organs in the future.
A few months later, doctors performed portal vein embolization (PVE) to attack some tumors in her liver.
The goal is to shrink the part of the liver that has the most tumors by blocking blood flow. This makes one side wither while the other side grows. “There’s no longer any nutrients going to it, and that whole side is basically dying,” Jill said.
“The right side shrinks and doesn’t get anything, while the left side starts to swell, and it will start to take over the functions of the right side.”
A few months later, the shrunken portion of her liver was removed. “I should have been free of all cancers,” she said.
However, by 2016, more lesions had grown on what remained of her liver.
Since then, she has continued to undergo chemotherapy and an emerging form of radiation known as proton radiation, which targets tumors more directly than traditional radiation and reduces damage to surrounding tissue. Several lymph nodes have also been removed.
“In my journey, I was very fortunate to tolerate chemotherapy very well, and cope well with radiation and other treatments,” she said.
“Living for nine years is a blessing, but it’s hard. I think my path was a lot easier than other people’s just because I took it well.
However, despite treatment, tumors continue to appear in her liver. “It’s kind of like Whack a Mole,” she said. “I’d go for an scan and they’d say, ‘It looks like you’ve got something in your liver again.’
Part of what makes colorectal cancer difficult to diagnose is its symptoms, which are often attributed to other conditions. However, some stand out more than others.
A study published last year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that the most frequently reported symptoms were abdominal pain, blood in the stool, diarrhea, and iron deficiency anemia.
Additionally, in a 2020 survey by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, 68% of participants said they had experienced blood in their stool. The average age of participants was 42 years.
The same survey also found that many patients with symptoms of colorectal cancer were misdiagnosed or dismissed initially.
More than half of survey participants said they had been misdiagnosed with conditions such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, anemia and mental health problems. Patients between the ages of 19 and 39 were more likely to feel rejected by their provider.
In one study, it took an average of 10 months for colorectal cancer to be diagnosed with just one symptom. Those with at least three symptoms were diagnosed after an average of five months.
Going longer periods of time without being diagnosed can allow colorectal cancer to progress to later stages, making it more difficult to treat.
Jill McDonald believes her age and active lifestyle led to doctors ignoring her symptoms for months, which could have allowed the disease to progress.
“You’re fired,” she said. “I think the only reason I was taken seriously was because I went and saw the physician assistant, and his mother-in-law had just been diagnosed with cancer, so I think he was aware of how quickly these things could happen.”
“Fortunately, I had him stick up for me and push me to take more tests. Otherwise, I might have just kept moving forward without doing anything.”
She now fears she is “losing valuable real estate” because her liver cannot handle any additional surgeries due to chemotherapy and previous operations.
“My prediction is that I am nearing the end of my treatment rope,” she said.
However, she still tries to maintain a positive attitude and maintain a sense of humor.
She also said she wants to be a resource for other young patients who were initially turned away.
“If there are new patients, old patients, phase one, phase two, phase three, phase four, I don’t really care, if they just need to talk to someone or know what to expect, I’ll leave my house. ” “Their phone number and contact information if I can be a resource for them in any way,” she said.
“It’s been nine years, and even if I die tomorrow, I think talking to someone or seeing someone still alive after this time when people think you’re going to die with stage four of the disease, it gives you more fire, more hope.”
(Tags for translation) colon