A 42-year-old man needed the toilet more than usual. He was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to his liver.

Tom McKenna
Tom McKenna  
  • A man, 42, who had colon cancer that spread to his liver urges symptomatic people to get looked at.

  • Tom McKenna had diarrhea and noticed blood-stained mucus on his toilet paper.

  • The rate at which people under 50 are diagnosed with colorectal cancer has increased since the '80s.

A man in his 40s who was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer after he had concerning diarrhea has been urging others to get checked out amid rising rates of the disease among people younger than 50.

Tom McKenna, 42, first noticed in summer 2020 he was going to the bathroom more often and having diarrhea.

"I noticed a horrible bloody mucus on my stools and on the toilet paper," he told Insider in an email.

McKenna, who lives in the UK, also felt lethargic but chalked that up to working too much in his recruitment job and not getting enough sleep.

Generally speaking, he said he "felt absolutely fine" but went to see a doctor about the diarrhea, which concerned him.

McKenna had colon cancer that had spread to his liver

The doctor organized an invasive camera test, called a colonoscopy, and McKenna was diagnosed with colon cancer that day. Further tests found it had spread to his liver, meaning he had stage 4 cancer.

The rate of people diagnosed with colon cancer in the US - and other high-income countries, like the UK - has decreased overall since the mid-1980s, partly because people older than 45 in the US, or older than 50 in the UK, are screened to detect the cancer before symptoms emerge.

But the rate at which people younger than 50 are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in high-income countries has steadily increased over that period, now accounting for 10% of all new diagnoses, research has found. Many factors are thought to contribute to the development of colon cancer, including a diet high in red meat, which may cause gut inflammation.

McKenna said his case was "bad luck."

McKenna had surgery that removed 60% of his liver 

The treatment a person has generally depends on how far the cancer has spread and can include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.

McKenna had two surgeries to remove 60% of his liver, in September 2020 and February, a Bowel Cancer UK press release said, and another that took away half of his colon and gallbladder - the organ stores bile that helps to digest fats - in May 2021.

McKenna told Insider on Thursday that he got pain around the surgery scars and he avoided fatty foods and alcohol because they "pass through very quickly." He's also increased the amount of fiber in his diet.

As of December, scans hadn't detected cancer in his body for almost a year. He will have another scan in May and then every six months for the next five years to check whether cancer has returned, he said.

Get checked 'before it's too late'

The American Cancer Society estimates that 106,970 people in the US will get diagnosed with colon cancer in 2023.

The likelihood that a person will live for more than five years after a diagnosis of colon cancer compared with someone without it typically depends on how far the cancer has spread.

"Colorectal cancer can be very inconspicuous for a long time, so I would encourage anyone who has any issues, or any doubts, to seek assurances before it is too late," McKenna said.

In addition to McKenna's symptoms, others include: a feeling that the bowel isn't completely empty after pooping, weight loss, and tummy pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone with those symptoms speak with a doctor.


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