Austin man beats colon cancer, advocates for young adults to get screened

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It's the second-most diagnosed cancer in the U.S. 

While it's more common in older adults, Ty Senour of East Austin was diagnosed in his late thirties. "I was healthy, fit, active- and no family history of cancer at all," Senour said. 

Yet, on his 38th birthday in January 2019, Senour was diagnosed with colon cancer. A few months earlier, he'd noticed blood in his stool.

"I remember telling myself, like, give it a week," Senour said. "And, I probably extended my own personal deadline five or six times."

He went to his doctor but because of his age, a colonoscopy wasn't scheduled until the end of May. However, after he began to feel sick while visiting family over Christmas, he was able to get the procedure moved up to late January.

"As soon as the colonoscopy was over, I woke up and was told within two minutes of me waking up that it was likely colon cancer," he said. "And, a few days later it was my birthday, and that’s when I got the official confirmation."

During the colonoscopy, doctors removed a few polyps and found a small tumor, which Dr. Thiru Lakshman, a colorectal surgeon at St. David's North Austin, removed a few weeks later.

"Ty in many ways was lucky because he followed up on his symptoms, and he got the appropriate work up, even though he really, technically, isn't of that age where you’d consider him, you know, to be suspicious for that. So, he did the right thing," Dr. Lakshman said.

Senour remembers noticing everyone around him in the hospital when he was there to get his colonoscopy was at least 30 years older than him.

"The anesthesiologist was like, ‘what are you doing here?’ but, when I went to go see cancer doctors, it was, ‘we’re seeing more and more your age, and we don’t know why," Senour said. 

Dr. Lakshman says those under the age of 50 is where he is seeing the greatest increase in incidents. 

"Overall cases, we’re still seeing more in elderly patients. But, that rate of increase is greatest for those younger patients."

Dr. Lakshman says common risk factors include: sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diets high in fats and red meats and low in fiber, smoking, excessive alcohol use and family history of the disease.

"If you’re going to remember something simple: changes in bowel habits and persistent bleeding- you gotta talk to your doctor," Dr. Lakshman said.

If you have symptoms or are at the recommended screening age of 45, opt for the "gold standard" colonoscopy, because if caught early, colon cancer is 80 to 95-percent curable, according to Dr. Lakshman.

"It’s both diagnostic and therapeutic in the sense that you can remove a polyp or a very aggressive pre-cancerous polyp before it develops into a cancer," Dr. Lakshman said.

As for Senour, he's three years cancer free, something he celebrates every year on his birthday. Just six months after he had his tumor removed he ran the New York City Marathon.

"My goal is to do the NYC Marathon again, once I hit the five years," Senour said. "So, that’s the big mark. And, raise some more money for the colon cancer foundation."

Again, guidelines now recommend colonoscopies for everyone at the age of 45. If it's clean, and you don’t have a family history of colon cancer, you don’t need another one for 10 years unless you have symptoms.

But, if polyps are found, colonoscopies are recommended every five years.

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