If you exclude nonmelanoma skin cancers, bowel cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2020, there will be more than 104 thousand new cases of colon cancer, and over 43 thousand new cases of rectal cancer .
About ninety percent of bowel cancer cases occur in people who are fifty years old or older. For this reason, the CDC recommends people in that age bracket get screened regularly. Despite how rare it is, young people can still get bowel cancer. A young woman from the UK was among these rare individuals. This is Charlotte’s story. What is Bowel Cancer? Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that starts in the bowel. Depending on where it starts, it may be called colon cancer (it starts in the colon), or rectal cancer (it starts in the rectum). The three main symptoms of bowel cancer are: Persistent blood in the stool. A persistent change in your bowel habits (usually having an increase in the number of bowel movements, or having consistently loose stools.) Persistent lower abdominal (stomach) pain, bloating, or discomfort, that’s always caused by eating. You may also experience a loss of appetite, or significant unintentional weight loss. Most people who have these symptoms do not have bowel cancer. They can all be associated with other, less severe conditions. If you have one or more of these symptoms that last for four weeks or longer, you should speak with your doctor.
Doctors still do not know that exact cause of bowel cancer, however there are some risk factors that can increase your chances of getting sick: Age: about ninety percent of people with bowel cancer are over the age of fifty. Diet: a low-fiber diet that is high in red or processed meats can increase your risk. Weight: bowel cancer occurs more commonly in overweight or obese people. Exercise: being inactive increases your risk. Alcohol Smoking Family history: if you have an immediate family member who developed bowel cancer under the age of fifty, you are at a greater lifetime risk. You should speak with your doctor, as you may be eligible for early screening. Other conditions: people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease may be at a greater risk .
Charlotte’s Story While bowel cancer is most common in older adults, an increasing number of diagnoses are occurring in people under the age of fifty. Charlotte Simpson was barely eighteen when she was diagnosed with the disease. Charlotte began complaining of an extremely upset stomach in October. The teenager was living in Whitely, Hampshire in the UK with her parents, Sarah and David, her younger brother, Elliot, and her boyfriend, Scott. Charlotte’s mother already suffered from Coeliac disease and thought that her daughter had perhaps inherited the condition. After taking a blood test, she found out that she was anemic. The doctors gave her a prescription for an iron supplement, but it didn’t help.
By Christmas time, Charlotte’s condition had gotten worse, and she was throwing up after every meal. Her parents took her to the Portsmouth Queen Alexandra Hospital twice throughout the holiday season because she was in so much pain. On both occasions, the doctors said she was likely suffering from Crohn’s or bowel infection. When she went in for a colonoscopy, however, doctors were unable to perform the procedure. “They told us there was a blockage,” explained her mother Sarah. “I knew from the look on their faces that the news wasn’t going to be good, as they went ghostly white.”  A Bowel Cancer Diagnosis The doctors ran a few more tests. When the family returned five days later, they gave them the devastating news: Charlotte had stage four bowel cancer. Charlotte’s eighteenth birthday was only two weeks away.
She went out for dinner on February fourth with her family, and then her closest friends threw her a surprise slumber party. The very next day, she began chemotherapy and immunotherapy to treat her cancer. Sarah said that her daughter was extremely brave throughout the entire process, and would always tell her friends that she was going to beat the cancer. “She described the chemotherapy as a ‘hangover without the partying,’ and said she felt like spaghetti all the time, she was so weak and her body was so floppy” Sarah described. “But by mid-March, she was in absolute agony, completely bloated and unable to keep any food down. ”  A scan revealed that her tumour had spread. By April, the doctors informed the family that Charlotte’s cancer had not responded at all to treatment, and there was nothing they could do.
“Charlotte looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to die aren’t I?’” Sarah said. “I replied, ‘They just can’t do anything, love.’”  Sarah spent her final days at home, because her parents did not want her to live her last moments in the hospital. By then, the COVID-19 pandemic had already taken hold in the UK, so they set up her bed in the back room on the ground floor. There, she could look out the window into the garden. Friends and members of her extended family came to the window to say goodbye. Charlotte finally passed away on May 22, 2020. “We would always say, ‘Love you. Love you more. Love you most,’ and that’s the last thing I said to her,” said Sarah. “Five hours later, at 10.50am, she went.”  Spreading Awareness Through Charlotte’s Memory Throughout the entire process, Sarah said she thought they had age on their side. Charlotte was so young, surely she could get through this. The doctors, however, told them that the fact that her cells were so young meant her cancer could divide quicker.
Charlotte was laid to rest on June 11, and her mother says that every day since her daughter died has been a struggle. “Part of me died with Charlotte the day we lost her – the whole family is broken. I don’t know how to keep going and dread waking up in the morning.”  Sarah is now terrified that the same thing is going to happen to her son, fifteen-year-old Elliot. She is telling Charlotte’s story to raise awareness about teenage bowel cancer. This was her daughter’s dying wish. “Charlotte made everybody she knew feel special, she was so lovely and kind, and I don’t want to see other families grieving like us.” 
According to Charity Bowel Cancer UK, Charlotte was one of three fifteen to nineteen-year-olds on average diagnosed every year in the UK. The It’s Never Too Young Campaign aims to remind people that you can get bowel cancer at any age, and that younger people should not delay speaking with their doctor if they are experiencing symptoms. Uk News outlet The Sun Launched the No Time to Lose campaign in 2018, in which they successfully lobbied the government to lower the screening age in England. If you are experiencing symptoms, do not disregard them. No matter what your age, you can get bowel cancer. The sooner you can receive treatment, the more likely you are to survive it.