Colorectal cancer is not just a man's disease -- it's the third most common cancer in women behind lung and breast -- and not just among the elderly . In fact, colorectal cancer diagnoses are becoming increasingly common in individuals younger than 50 . An estimated 5 percent (or 1 in 20) of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer of the colon or rectum in their lifetime .
Ashley Oliver was that 1 in 20.
Oliver, an active mother of two young daughters, began experiencing symptoms after her 30th birthday. She suffered repeated bouts of stomach pain and physical exhaustion, growing more persistent and severe by the month -- typical of colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy nearly a year after her symptoms first began confirmed the diagnosis: Oliver had colorectal cancer.
"Following my diagnosis I was scared -- afraid I wouldn't be able to do all of the things I loved to do," Oliver said. "I wondered how I would be able to do things with my children, such as swimming, playing outside, and going to the beach. It was a very upsetting time."
Treatment for colorectal cancer can be complicated in patients whose cancer is situated closer to the rectum than the colon (often referred to as rectal cancer) . Radiotherapy, which uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells, is often used to treat colorectal cancer, shrinking tumors and lessening risk of the cancer returning.
Oliver pursued a six-week radiotherapy treatment option, enabling her doctors to shrink her tumor to undetectable levels and ultimately preserve her quality of life.
"I was nervous and apprehensive about my ability and strength to endure treatment, but I think radiotherapy was a great option for me and would afford me the best possible outcome," Oliver said.
The Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR) is dedicated to promoting research on biological sex differences in medicine -- including the vast sex differences that exist in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Learn more about these differences here, and find more resources on colorectal cancer here.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR ®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.