MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD)- During the middle of the pandemic, Paula Oakes received bad news during a colonoscopy.

“It was June of 2020. I was 43,” said Oakes. “It was the one good thing that came out of (the pandemic) for me.”

For years, Oakes had symptoms of colon cancer that she thought were other issues. But all that changed when she talked to her doctor, who sent her to a gastroenterologist.

“(The gastroenterologist) could not finish the procedure because the tumor was so big and that’s when I found out that I had cancer,” said Oakes.

The colon cancer was treated with surgery and then chemotherapy. The process was trying for Oakes, but people stepped in to help her.

“I think for the first couple of months I was in shock. I was kind of just powering through and going through the motions. What really helped me get through it was my awesome family and friends,” said Oakes.

Dr. Rya Kaplan, who is Oakes’ doctor at East Cooper Medical Center GI, says that the minimum age for cancer screenings has been lowered to 45 from 50.

Colon Cancer Symptoms

  • Blood in your stool.
  • Change of bowel habits.
  • Unexplained abdominal pain or weight loss.

According to Dr. Kaplan, studies have shown more people are getting colon cancer at younger ages.

“I will say from my personal experience that since the guidelines have shifted I certainly have found several colon cancers that would have been caught likely at later stages had they waited,” said Dr. Kaplan. “I’ve also found pre-cancerous polyps in patients at a much younger age that likely would have been cancer if they had waited till their routine screening at age 50.”

The cause of the change is something that Dr. Kaplan doesn’t have all the answers for.

“I’m not sure why entirely colon cancer and pre-cancerous polyps are being found younger whether it’s environmental or diet-related,” said Dr. Kaplan.

As warning signs and cancerous masses are being found in people at younger ages Dr. Kaplan advises people to get colonoscopies instead of putting them off.

“The goal of a colonoscopy is to go into the colon and look for polyps and remove them when we find them,” said Dr. Kaplan. “The type of polyp determines when your next procedure is. Also the size and number.”

What to know about a colonoscopy

  • Talk to your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist.
  • A pill or small volume of preparation drink is needed to prepare.
  • The procedure is 30 minutes long and patients will be administered anesthesia.
  • Schedule a full day off of work.

“What I will say is to not let the fear or the uncomfortableness around the procedure and doing the preparation preclude you from getting it done,” said Dr. Kaplan.

Oakes’ cancer is in remission and she has one piece of advice for people who are eligible for screening.

“If you think you have any symptoms definitely get checked because a colonoscopy is easier to have than having colon cancer,” said Oakes.