Georgia man is proof of increasing cases of advanced colorectal cancer

Derrick Cameron of Newnan was diagnosed at 52

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Colorectal Cancer: Here is what you need to know

Derrick Cameron had a vision of savoring the sun, riding his motorcycle, and spending more time with his family when he retired from the Georgia Department of Transportation in 2016. His positive perspective was nearly shattered when a surgeon advised him he only had 18 months to live.

Cameron, a husband, and father of two had experienced various symptoms including blood in his stool, trouble with bowel movements, and what he thought were hemorrhoids. His doctor informed him that a tumor was growing outside of his colon. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at the age of 52.

“Hearing the diagnosis is traumatic,” Derrick Cameron said. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 52.

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“Hearing the diagnosis is traumatic,” Cameron, now 57, said. “Life was going pretty good. I was moving along, so it was scary to hear that.”

More than 153,000 Americans are estimated to receive that same diagnosis in 2023, according to statistics gathered by the American Cancer Society. Earlier this month, the CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians reported that the incidences of colorectal cancer in adults younger than 55 had doubled, from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2019. Furthermore, the incidences of advanced-stage CRC, like Cameron’s, are increasing across all age groups.

“We know rates are increasing in young people, but it’s alarming to see how rapidly the whole patient population is shifting younger, despite shrinking numbers in the overall population,” said Rebecca Siegel, MPH, senior scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the report, in a statement.

The delay in being treated or taking preventative measures could be due, in some cases, to individuals taking their health into their own hands, believing themselves to be “WebMD-certified,” as Cameron put it. He was not immune to that.

Two years prior to his diagnosis, Cameron experienced blood in his stool. A colonoscopy would follow. Doctors discovered and removed a polyp from his colon after that procedure. About a year passed before he noticed issues with both urinating and bowel movements. He sought help from the journalists at WebMD before seeking medical help.

“I probably should’ve gone to the doctor a little sooner,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I started going to WebMD first. I also wish I would have gotten a colonoscopy at 50 versus when I experienced blood in my stool.”

Though his response was delayed, the Newnan resident was able to begin radiation and undergo several rounds of chemotherapy to combat his condition.

Early detection is truly a lifesaver for many since colorectal cancer has a 91% survival rate when caught early, said Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.

“(Colorectal cancer) can develop silently, without symptoms, until it is in the later, more deadly, stages of the disease,” Sapienza told the AJC. “That’s why it’s critical for average-risk people to start screening at age 45, or sooner if they are at high risk.”

The Alliance, the leading colorectal cancer nonprofit in the U.S., provides a number of preventative resources and services for those who have been diagnosed. One option is the website, which allows visitors to explore multiple screening options based on their risk factors. Colorectal risk factors include eating a diet high in red or processed meat and low in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain fiber, and calcium.

In addition to helping individuals learn their risk, the Alliance has helped Cameron and dozens of others take advantage of the medical advancement of biomarkers after diagnosis, Sapienza said.

Biomarkers are the molecular profile of an individual’s tumor. According to the Alliance, they include DNA, proteins, and genetic mutations in blood, tissue, or other body fluids. Through the Personalized Treatment Program, the patient’s tumor biomarker and medical history data are analyzed using an artificial intelligence platform, Perthera, that provides the patient and care team with personalized treatment recommendations. Then, those are matched to each individual patient to improve patient outcomes and quality of life. The Alliance’s program offers no-cost testing and analysis of most stage 3 and stage 4 patients’ colorectal tumors.

Derrick Cameron, right, with his wife Kim, is one of more than 153,000 Americans estimated to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2023.

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“I had tried every chemo cocktail out there,” Cameron said. “One would work for a while, and it would stop working … The biomarker testing helped target my specific tumor.”

With the Alliance’s help, Cameron was introduced to the biomarker testing that determined his tumor was HER2-positive. Through the HER2 clinical trial, he found treatment that worked without the symptoms of chemotherapy. His oncologists Dr. John Strickler at Duke University, Dr. Shefali Shah, who treated Cameron at Kaiser Permanente Southwood Comprehensive Medical Center, and Dr. Christina Wu who treated Cameron when she worked at Emory University Hospital, all contributed to his successful treatment plan.

Cameron’s view is now clearer than it’s ever been. His wife, Kim, has helped him through some of his toughest days. His health now steady, Cameron works as an engineering consultant.

His experience has made him more grateful for what he once considered minor joys.

“Being able to experience my family more often – things as simple as cutting your grass, sitting in the sun, riding your motorcycle – it’s hard to put into words. I’m just absolutely grateful. I understand the value of life these days.”