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More young people are being diagnosed with colon cancer, experts say

Nicole Friedman is working to recover and get back to running, one year after receiving a surprising colon cancer diagnosis at age 35.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Today, 35-year-old Nicole Friedman looks happy and healthy, but it's been only a year since she was battling colon cancer.

Friedman said her symptoms began with exhaustion and stomach pain. She had just given birth to her son, so she thought it could have been lingering complications from the pregnancy.

"I went from a same-day ultrasound to a same-day CT scan to two hours later having a colonoscopy and maybe 3 or 4 hours (later) having life-saving surgery," she said.

Friedman said she was stunned when she was diagnosed. She had always been in good health, and was an avid runner with a mostly plant-based diet. 

But while her diagnosis may sound unusual for someone her age, it fits with a growing and concerning trend. One in five people diagnosed with colon cancer are now under the age of 55, according to the American Cancer Society.

"Today I'm doing well. I will remain hopeful that I will be cancer-free. I'm just trying to live every day the best way I can," Friedman said at a recent appointment with her doctor, David Parsons, a colon and rectal surgeon with Kaiser Permanente.

After the surgery, Friedman wanted to get back to running. One of her main goals was to run the Shamrock Run earlier this month. She ran alongside Parsons, marking the one year anniversary of her cancer diagnosis.

"And I ran my first half on March 5, 2023, and Dr. Parsons and I ran together to kind of commiserate this journey that we've been on," she said.

Colon cancer is the second-most common cause of cancer death in the U.S., and a leading cause of cancer-related death in men younger than 50 — although all genders and age groups can get it, and health officials have been seeing more cases in younger people.

"If we can do screening, and find an early stage cancer, we have a better chance at treating that for a cure," Parsons said.

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