‘I had no symptoms at all:’ Cancer patient encourages screenings

More than 100,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year, and the American Cancer Society says the rate for people under 50 is on the rise.
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 6:19 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - “I was really shocked because I had no symptoms at all,” Sharon McRae said.

That was McRae’s reaction after doctors diagnosed her with colorectal cancer last June. She says she got the diagnosis after going to the doctor for flu-like symptoms.

”I had no discomfort, no pain, none of the typical symptoms they tell people to watch for,” McRae said.

She says she had no family history of cancer and hadn’t gotten screened.

“I didn’t feel like that was something that was necessary at the time,” McRae said.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Iowa — and health officials say finding it early can save lives.

Dr. Meng Gan is a radiation oncologist at MercyOne Waterloo Cancer Center. She says people should look out for symptoms like blood in their bowel movements, weight loss and abdominal pain.

Gan says hospitals saw a surge in patients with more advanced-stage cancer after the height of the pandemic. She says many people are having a hard time getting to a doctor right now.

“You have to have good health insurance and you have to have time off of work to do it, so you have a financial hassle and a time hassle,” Dr. Gan said.

She says family history can indicate how early you need to get screened. But she says most people should start getting colonoscopies at age 45 if they don’t have symptoms or family history — but even younger if they do.

“It was a matter of being busy with a lot of different things and not making that a priority,” McRae said. “Having the opportunity now to see what those barriers are more clearly, I would have made different choices.”

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