Colon Cancer Awareness Month: know the symptoms

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STONY BROOK -

March marks Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and doctors and patients are working to spread the message about its warning signs.

Johanna Poremba was a 22-year-old law student from Hampton Bays when she was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer.

"I was in denial," she says. "I thought that couldn't be me, I was too young."

Poremba says she had "textbook symptoms" that she ignored for months. "I didn't even think they were cancer symptoms because I didn't know what to be looking out for," she says.

And doctors say that's the concern. At Stony Brook University Hospital, doctors say more and more people are being diagnosed with the disease under the age of 50, and they don't know why.

"The exact ideology is not very clear. The risk for colorectal cancer could be genetic or environmental," says Dr. Minsig Choi, director of outpatient medical oncology at Stony Brook Cancer Center.

Dr. Choi says most people should get screened by age 50 -- or earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer or if you are experiencing symptoms.

Fatigue, weakness, abdominal discomfort and changes in bowel habits are some of the signs that you may want to see your doctor and talk about early screening procedures, according to Choi.

MORE INFO: Cancer.org

Poremba says her hope is that her story gets out there and more people take steps to protect themselves.

"A lot of people aren't as lucky as I was -- maybe they don't know the symptoms, they don't know what to be looking out for," she says. "So I want people to start this dialogue, even if it's uncomfortable dialogue to have, it needs to be had."

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