26.05.2024

Doctor who discovered her own colon cancer shares warning signs that could save a life

A Florida gynecologist discovered her own stage 4 colon cancer despite suffering just two mild symptoms. Dr Lauren Juyia, 38, started feeling fatigued last year but like most people would do, dismissed it as a part of life.

It wasn’t until Dr Juyia, who works in Brooksville and Clearwater, Florida, started feeling ‘pelvic heaviness’ last August that she decided to get an ultrasound.

Tests showed she had a small mass growing on her ovaries, which within a few weeks grew from 8 centimeters to 24 centimeters. It turned out the cause was actually later-stage colon cancer that had spread.

Dr Lauren Juyia, a 38-year-old gynecologist in Florida, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last year after experiencing ‘pelvic heaviness’ and fatigue. The cancer had spread to her ovaries, uterus, omentum, appendix, and abdomen.

Dr Lauren Juyia, a 38-year-old gynecologist in Florida, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last year after experiencing 'pelvic heaviness' and fatigue. The cancer had spread to her ovaries, uterus, omentum, appendix, and abdomen. Dr Lauren Juyia, a 38-year-old gynecologist in Florida, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last year after experiencing 'pelvic heaviness' and fatigue. The cancer had spread to her ovaries, uterus, omentum, appendix, and abdomen.

She is now spreading awareness of the warning signs to watch out for.

‘Having a background in obstetrics, we describe size by weeks of pregnancy and so I was like, “Oh my god, I have a 16-week-size mass.” From experience, I could tell that this was my ovary,’ Dr Juyia told Good Morning America.

‘I had never seen anything benign, meaning not cancer, grow that fast before,’ Dr Juyia said. “So we kind of knew, deep down, that this was not going to be good. And we suspected ovarian cancer of course, because it was the ovaries being the masses.’

Within a month, she was having surgery to remove masses from her ovaries, uterus, omentum- the large, flat tissue layer hanging down from the stomach- appendix, and abdomen.

Despite the initial symptoms in her ovaries, Dr Juyia actually had stage 4 colon cancer. Other than pelvic heaviness, her only other symptom was fatigue.

‘I was a little tired in the afternoon for about two months previous to this and as a mom with two little kids…I didn’t think anything of saying, “Oh, I think I need a tea in the afternoon,” Dr Juyia said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typical symptoms include changes in bowel movements, blood in the stool, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, and unexplained weight loss.

Research from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that young people most commonly report rectal bleeding as their first symptom.

Rates of colon cancer have risen among adults aged 20 to 49. Scientists say more than 40 percent of diagnoses are among those aged 45 to 49 years old

The above graph shows how rates of colon cancer have risen among adults aged 20 to 49. Scientists say more than 40 percent of diagnoses are among those aged 45 to 49 years old. The graph shows rates of colon cancer per 100,000 people in younger adults by stages

The above graph shows the rate of diagnoses of colon cancer in age groups over time. It shows a clear uptick in diagnoses among people aged 20 to 49 years old (top right) and an arrest in the rate among 50 to 54-year-olds (bottom left). Diagnoses are continuing to drop in those over 65 years old. The phrases localized, regional, distant and unstaged refer to the stage of colon cancer that was diagnosed

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. And it’s on the rise in young people.

A 2023 report from the American Cancer Society states that the rate of colorectal cancer in Americans younger than age 55 increased from 11 percent of all cases in 1995 to 20 percent in 2019.

In the same study, researchers estimated that this year, 153,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. This includes about 52,000 deaths.

Of those cases, 13 percent would be in people under age 50, a nine percent increase in cases within that age range since 2020.

The American Cancer Society has also warned that more cases are being diagnosed after the cancer has already metastasized, or spread, to other parts of the body, similar to Dr Juyia’s case.

A 2017 study in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that people under 50 tended to wait two months longer to seek medical attention after first noticing symptoms than those over 50.

Experts are still trying to find out what’s behind the shift, but unhealthy diets, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyles have all been blamed for the increasing rates.

Actor Chadwick Boseman’s death from colon cancer in 2020 at the age of 43 drew more attention to the trend. He played the Black Panther in the blockbuster Marvel movie.

Dr Juyia had her most recent surgery in March to remove an inactive tumor. So far, tests show that she has no evidence of the disease.

Her main advice is to get screened early, which the majority of Americans aren’t dong.

The American Cancer Society estimates that four in ten adults age 45 and older were not up to date on colorectal cancer screenings in 2021.

This can be done with either a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, which just looks at the lower part of the rectum and colon.

‘People that are younger than the screening age should still be paying attention to our symptoms because we’re not eligible for screening usually. We might not have any symptoms because we are young, our bodies are more resilient. We can tolerate more symptoms,’ Dr Juyia said.

‘We just need to be aware if we’re not lucky enough to be in the range where we should be screened. And if you are in the range that you should be screened, take advantage of that. Don’t squander that opportunity. There’s a reason we want to screen you and keep you safe.’

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