NE couple diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their 30s, say screenings need to happen sooner

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 7:21 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -Nearly 12% of all colorectal cancer cases per year are in people below 50, according to the American Cancer Society. Just last year, the screening age for colonoscopies was dropped to 45 years old.

In 2018, Erik Oliva started experiencing some symptoms of colorectal cancer, but he was in his 30′s. He thought it would go away.

“I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I was losing too much blood every day,” said Erik.

When Erik finally went to the doctor, they found a donut-sized tumor in his colon. Erik went through surgery and into chemo.

“It was an earth-shattering moment,” said Erik. “I was 32 at the time, sitting there and he’s telling me I have cancer.”

That was just the start of the Olivas’ cancer journey.

“I started noticing some symptoms in April, but I chalked it up to stress,” said Nickie Oliva. “I had my colonoscopy and I woke up to the doctor sitting down and my mom was at the side of my bed crying.”

Both Erik and his wife, Nickie battling the same disease in their 30s.

“We’re barely holding it together just with me having problems,” said Erik. “What little bit I had left was just shattered.”

While the screening age is 45, the Olivas said 45 is not soon enough.

“It needs to be earlier,” said Nickie.

“I don’t think I could have waited,” said Erik. “I would have been at stage four by the time I was 36, 37.”

A public health task force recommends 45, because people under 50 were making up 12% of colorectal cancer diagnoses, and that number was growing.

“I do feel like I’m seeing folks present in their early 40s, late 30s with symptoms that are certainly concerning for potentially underlying colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Mark Wells, gastroenterology specialist.

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cancer death among men and women according to the American Cancer Society. While colorectal cancer deaths are declining for people over 50, rates are climbing in people under 50.

“Overall, you’re still having that colorectal cancer burden high because of the increasing incidence of colorectal cancer in younger folks,” said Dr. Wells.

Erik’s been cancer-free for two years. On Tuesday, after surgery, radiation and chemo, Nickie went in for a regular screening and learned that she is also two years cancer-free.

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