A Florida gynecologist discovered her own stage 4 colon cancer despite only having two mild symptoms.
Dr. Lauren Juyia, 38, started feeling fatigued last year but, as most people would, dismissed it as a part of life.
It wasn’t until Dr. Juyia, who works in Brooksville and Clearwater, Florida, began feeling “heavy pelvis” last August that she decided to get an ultrasound.
Tests revealed a small mass growing on her ovaries, which grew from 8 centimeters to 24 centimeters within a few weeks. It turned out that 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.
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 thought, ‘Oh my god, I have a 16 week mass.’ I could tell from experience that this was my ovary,” Dr. Juyia Good morning America.
“I had never seen anything benign, not cancer, growing so fast,” said Dr Juyia. “So we actually knew deep down that this wasn’t going to be good. And of course we suspected ovarian cancer, because it was the ovaries that were the masses.”
Within a month she had surgery to remove masses from her ovaries, uterus, omentum – the large, flat layer of tissue that hung down from the gastric appendix and abdomen.
Despite the initial symptoms in her ovaries, Dr. Juyia had stage 4 colon cancer. Aside from a heavy pelvis, her only other symptom was fatigue.
“I was a little tired in the afternoon about two months before, and as a mom with two small kids… I didn’t think to say, ‘Oh, I think I need afternoon tea,'” said Dr. Juyia.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Preventiontypical symptoms include changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, and unexplained weight loss.
Investigation of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that young people usually report rectal bleeding as their first symptom.
The graph above shows how the number of colon cancer cases has increased in adults aged 20 to 49 years. Scientists say more than 40 percent of diagnoses occur in people between the ages of 45 and 49. The graph shows the number of colon cancer cases per 100,000 people in younger adults by stages
The graph above shows the number of colon cancer diagnoses in age groups over time. It shows a marked increase in the number of diagnoses among people 20 to 49 years old (top right) and a decrease in the number among 50 to 54 year olds (bottom left). Diagnoses continue to fall among the over-65s. The terms 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 is increasing in young people.
A 2023 report from the American Cancer Society states that the number of colon cancer cases in Americans under age 55 has increased from 11 percent of all cases in 1995 to 20 percent in 2019.
In the same study, researchers estimate that 153,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year. This includes about 52,000 deaths.
Of those cases, 13 percent would be in people under the age of 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.
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 people over 50.
Experts are still trying to figure out what’s behind the shift, but unhealthy diets, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyles are all to blame for the rising numbers.
The death of actor Chadwick Boseman 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 last had surgery in March to remove an inactive tumor. So far, tests show she has no evidence of the disease.
Her number one piece of advice is to get screened early, which the majority of Americans don’t.
The American Cancer Society estimates that by 2021, four in 10 adults age 45 and older were unaware of colon cancer screening.
This can be done with a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, which looks at only the lower part of the rectum and colon.
“People who are younger than the screening age still need to watch for our symptoms because we usually don’t qualify for screening. We may not have symptoms because we are young, our bodies are more resilient. We can tolerate more symptoms,” Dr Juyia said.
“We just need to be aware that we’re not lucky enough to be in the range where we need to be screened. And if you’re in the range that you should be screened, take advantage of that. Don’t waste that opportunity. There’s a reason we want to screen you and keep you safe.’