Woman, 39, Diagnosed With Terminal Cancer After Being Told She Had IBS

A mother of two has been told she has terminal colon cancer, after being misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for three years.

Claire Gunn, from Stockport in the U.K., was eventually diagnosed correctly when she sought medical help shortly after the birth of her daughter in 2019

Gunn, who was 39 at the time the cancer was deemed terminal and now 40, has been told that she may have just one year left to live.

"I was misdiagnosed with IBS," Gunn told the Manchester Evening News. "The [primary care physician] told me 'we can't work out what's wrong with you.' They supplied me with a load of different tablets, they probably didn't help."

She returned to her physician three years later, after experiencing aching sensations in her leg following the birth of her second child.

Gunn was subsequently hospitalized, and doctors discovered that she had colon cancer.

It had perforated her appendix, and her colon had to be surgically removed.

"Bowel cancer is something that's normally associated with much older people, there needs to be more awareness that people my age are suffering too," she said.

Colon cancer and IBS share some of the same symptoms, including weight loss, diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain, and blood in or on the stool.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NIH), the rate of colorectal cancer among people under 50 has doubled since the 1990s. Increasing numbers of younger people are dying from the disease, which has traditionally been associated with older adults.

It isn't clear why this is the case, but the NIH says that researchers are investigating a potential link between this trend and environmental factors such as chemicals in food and soil, air and water pollution, and pesticide use.

After her diagnosis, Gunn underwent several rounds of treatment, including chemotherapy and surgery, and was given the "all-clear" in 2020.

However, in January of this year, when her colostomy bag was due to be removed, doctors revealed that the cancer had spread to Gunn's gallbladder and liver, and that her illness is incurable.

She is now waiting for doctors to decide if she should qualify for further treatment that could prolong her life for an estimated five years.

Without the treatment, Gunn has been told that she may live for between one and three years.

"I hope I'm a good enough candidate, I'm young and I have two children. It's difficult because you're just left with your thoughts while doctors decide whether or not to do the operation," she said.

"When you've been told you've got incurable cancer, you're living every day thinking 'is it my last?'"

One of Gunn's friends has set up a GoFundMe page to raise awareness of the condition, and to raise funds for Gunn to take her children on a holiday.

Woman holding a model of the colon
Scientists are trying to understand why colorectal cancer rates among younger adults are on the rise. RyanKing999/iStock