YOUR LIFE YOUR HEALTH

Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Survivor urges screenings, early detection 

Mar 7, 2024, 5:55 PM | Updated: Mar 8, 2024, 8:50 am

SANDY – March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a chance to raise awareness of the number one cancer killer for men under 50, and number two for women under 50.

In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age for screening from 50 to 45 due to more cases on the rise among younger adults.

Mark Seguin, a husband and father of two boys, was 35 when he was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer.

Three years ago, he started having cramps on his right side.

“I didn’t think much of it,” Seguin said. “I just thought I ate something weird.”

But guessing it could be appendicitis, he went to the hospital, where he underwent different tests, including a colonoscopy.

“I woke up, and they’re like, ‘Oh, let me go get your wife,'” he said. “I didn’t put two and two together that there was bad news coming.”

Mark Seguin and family

Mark Seguin is a husband and father of two boys. He was 35 when he was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. (Seguin family)

Doctors had discovered a tumor during Seguin’s colonoscopy – a unique case for a healthy, younger adult with no family history of colorectal cancer.

“I just kind of won the bad luck lottery,” he said.

Warning signs

Colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you have a colon, you have a risk of colon cancer,” said Dr. Nathan Merriman, medical director of gastroenterology and digestive health at Intermountain Health.

Merriman said besides having a family history of colorectal cancer, other risk factors include lack of physical activity, a poor diet and smoking.

Warning signs of colon cancer may include:

  • Persistent or progressive abdominal pain
  • Changes in bowel movements, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Unintentional weight loss

Prevention

Merriman said you can help lower your risk by staying active, drinking lots of water and eating healthy – including more vegetables and less processed meats.

“Don’t eat hot dogs, ever,” he said. “I don’t know that anyone knows exactly what’s in hot dogs.”

But of course, the key to early detection is regular screening beginning at age 45, or sooner if you have a family history of colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, the most effective screening method, a patient is sedated, and then a doctor uses a tiny camera to look inside the colon and remove any polyps, which are abnormal growths that can turn cancerous.

Merriman said patients shouldn’t be scared of a colonoscopy. “We really work hard to focus on the patient in the room to help watch all their vital signs, keep them safe, and keep them comfortable the whole time,” he said.

If a tumor is detected during a colonoscopy, surgery is then needed.

In Seguin’s case, almost 24 inches of his colon was removed. Three months of aggressive chemotherapy followed.

“In my head, I’m like, ‘I’m young and healthy, I can do this.’ I don’t know that I was fully prepared for how impactful it was,” he said. “It was a really rough 12 weeks of going through that.”

Despite the challenges, Seguin is now cancer-free and able to do the things he loves, like snowboarding with his sons.

“Any time I can be outside is a good day,” he said.

He’s glad he decided to get help when he did – and has a warning for others. “Listen to your body while it’s whispering to you about a message, so you don’t have to deal with it when it’s screaming at you.”

Seguin’s younger sister got the message. She decided to get a colonoscopy, where they found pre-cancerous polyps and fortunately were able to remove them in time.

“I would go through this again to be sure that she didn’t have to go through it or anyone else did,” he said.


Intermountain Health is helping raise awareness with a unique campaign. Their “Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer” giant inflatable colon tour is heading to various hospitals, clinics, and community centers in Utah and Idaho throughout the month. 

The next stop is at Intermountain Alta View Hospital in Sandy on Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

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Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Survivor urges screenings, early detection