Doctor sees spike in advanced cancers in younger patients who fear seeing doctor during pandemic

ACTON, Mass. — A 29-year-old woman from Chelmsford was on vacation with her friends and family when she noticed something off with her body.

“In my heart, something told me something was wrong. I only had one symptom, and it was blood in my stool for like 2 weeks,” said Alexa Morell.

Morell made an appointment to see a gastroenterologist at Middlesex digestive health and endoscopy center.

“When I woke up from that, I got the most devastating news you can get. My 13-month-old son walked in the morning, and at 4 p.m., he walked the first time, and at 4 p.m., I got the call confirming that I had cancer and it was indeed Stage 4,” said Morell.

Hearing those words at 29, left her feeling shattered, especially since there is no family history of cancer.

Morell’s cancer spread fast. The young mother did several rounds of chemo treatments, and went through surgery after surgery, even having to get her gallbladder removed.

In the middle of the pandemic, her husband was forced to drop her off for yet another surgery at Mass General. He wasn’t allowed in because of the restrictions at the time.

“A typical polyp can look like a mushroom or it can be flat,” said Dr. Raj Devarajan with Middlesex Gastroenterology.

Devarajan is a gastroenterologist at the same facility where Morell was diagnosed.

“Because of COVID, routine care has been ignored. Patients only go when they absolutely have to go,” said Devarajan.

Now, he says, in his Acton practice, they are seeing patients as young as 25 years old being diagnosed with cancer.

“The American Cancer Society has recognized that, and now moved the normal screening from 50 to age 45,” said Devarajan.

Devarajan says by the end of the year, we are expected to see a rising number of advanced cancer patients.

“I think by December we are going to see more advanced cancers because they haven’t been screened,” said Devarajan.

People haven’t been screened, because they have been putting off their routine checkups during the pandemic.

“The longer you wait, we are seeing later cancers, polypus that could have been prevented,” said Devarajan.

“My message is listen to your body. Don’t ignore any symptoms,” said Morell.

The bigger discussion doctors are having include: Why is cancer showing up in younger patients? Is it the processed foods, our environment? Refrigeration techniques?

The bottom line is that doctors and Morell are urging people to get checked, and don’t be afraid to go to your routine doctor’s appointments.

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