Christine Bronstein took a home colon cancer test after seeing blood in her stool. It was positive.
Her doctor assured her she didn’t have cancer, but a colonoscopy found she had stage 3.
She’s undergoing chemo and raising awareness of colorectal cancers, which are on the rise in young people.
When Christine Bronstein saw some blood in her stool last fall, she chalked it up to hemorrhoids. The 48-year-old — known for founding the social network A Band of Wives and her family’s Borders bookstore empire — eats well, avoids sugar, and doesn’t drink alcohol, so she didn’t think it would be serious, she told Today.com.
But Bronstein took an at-home colon cancer test in January to be sure, and the result came back positive. This time, her primary care doctor was the one who wasn’t concerned. He texted her: “You don’t have cancer :)”.
Bronstein, a publisher who lives in Hawaii with her journalist husband Phil Bronstein, pushed for a colonoscopy anyway. She learned she had stage 3 colorectal cancer and a nearly 2-inch tumor in her rectum. She also had two polyps removed that could have become cancerous.
“Thank god I did the Let’s Get Checked home test or I would have waited until 50 and had a very bad prognosis,” Bronstein wrote on Instagram in March. “Please do your check ups. 45 is the new 50 For colorectal cancer screening. Cancer is terrifying, humbling and disorienting. I’m so grateful for my family and all those supporting me already.”
Bronstein is now undergoing chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, which she and doctors hope will be small enough to remove by June. She’s speaking out to raise awareness of colorectal cancer, the no. 2 killer of all cancers but the least funded.
“We can possibly slow the 140% increases in early onset CRC happening by catching them as polyps before they turn into cancer,” she wrote in another Instagram post, adding that the disease disproportionately affects Black and Jewish people. “Butts and guts are the new boobs when it comes to cancer awareness!” she wrote.
Colon cancer is on the rise in younger people
In the past three decades, research has consistently found rising rates of colon cancer and related illnesses like rectal cancer younger people.
People older than 50 are still at a greater risk of developing colon cancer overall. However, people under 50 are more often diagnosed with hard-to-treat, advanced forms of the disease, Insider previously reported.
Actor Chadwick Boseman died from died of complications related to colon cancer in 2020, four years after a stage-three diagnosis. He was 43.
Bowel cancers can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms — such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue — are common with ailments like hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease, or irritable bowel syndrome. What’s more, routine testing isn’t offered to many people under 50 in several countries, including the US.
If caught early, colon cancer is very treatable, and the five-year relative survival rate is about 90% if the cancer doesn’t spread, according to the American Cancer Society.
Other young people have reported doctors dismissing their colon cancer symptoms
While Bronstein told Today she doesn’t blame her doctor for assuming she didn’t have cancer, other patients have reported doctors brushing off their symptoms too.
Amanda Lee, a 28-year-old actress and wedding photographer, said she was weight-shamed by a gastroenterologist when she complained of severe stomach pain and weight loss.
“He said, ‘Maybe it’s not such a bad thing’ that I couldn’t eat because of my pain,” she told Today Health. “He was praying the fact that I was not eating.” Lee said the doctor didn’t run any tests and sent her home with a prescription for a UTI, which her pharmacist later questioned.
When she went to another provider for a colonoscopy, she was diagnosed with stage 3A colon cancer, meaning it had spread to her lymph nodes. She started chemotherapy and took to TikTok to share her story. “Remember this is your body,” she said in one video, “and they can’t gaslight you.”
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