Journalist Deborah James Dies at 40

By Pat Carragher - July 05, 2022

English journalist and BBC podcast host Deborah James has died following a long battle with cancer. The reporter was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2016. James shared her cancer journey on the BBC podcast “You, Me and the Big C.”

James’ family announced her passing in a post on her Instagram page.

“We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Dame Deborah James; the most amazing wife, daughter, sister, mummy. Deborah passed away peacefully today, surrounded by her family. Deborah, who many of you will know as Bowelbabe, was an inspiration and we are incredibly proud of her and her work and commitment to charitable campaigning, fundraising and her endless efforts to raise awareness of cancer that touched so many lives.”

In a recent column for the Sun, James announced that she had run out of treatment options and was entering end of life care.

“It’s not about lack of access to the latest fancy drugs — it’s not about feeling hard done by that I couldn’t get a life-saving operation,” James wrote. “It’s simply that I have an extremely difficult cancer in an extremely difficult area of my body that even today’s cutting-edge technology and techniques cannot cure… My body is so emaciated that I have no choice but to surrender to the inevitable.”

Bowel cancer is more commonly known as colorectal cancer in the U.S. While James’ death at age 40 seems young, it fits an alarming trend of younger patients being diagnosed with the late-stage disease.

A recent study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine looked at data from more than 100,000 people with adenocarcinoma. They found that patients ages 20-29 had the highest increase in new colon cancer cases and are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage disease when cancer has already spread.

After considering recent trends of increasing cases of colon cancer in younger people, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that people of average risk start colorectal cancer screenings at 45 instead of 50.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death, and nearly 53,000 people will die of the disease this year. The data show that for Americans ages 45-49, there are about 7,000 new colorectal cancer cases per year and about 1,800 deaths. This group accounts for about half of colorectal cancer diagnoses occurring under the previous recommended age of 50.

“The heart breaking loss of Deborah James once again makes us face the cold reality of the highly concerning increased incidence of early onset colorectal cancer. We need more research to better understand why we’re seeing more and more colorectal cancers in young adults,” said Dr. Ibrahim Halil Sahin of the Department of Gastrointestinal Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. “A recent study suggests by 2030 colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer related death among individuals aged 20-49 years.”

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"We need more research to better understand why we’re seeing more and more colorectal cancers in young adults."

- Dr. Ibrahim Sahin, Gastrointestinal Oncology Program

Sahin suggests looking at environmental factors, increasing metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, red meat consumption and perhaps also gestational exposures as the majority of cases are sporadic without colorectal cancer history in the family.

Moffitt sees colorectal cancer patients in their 20s. If you’re younger than 45 and at average risk, screening isn’t recommended. So when should you be concerned?

Sahin says it’s important to pay attention to these red flags, which are the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer in younger patients:

  • Bowel habits changes
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Unexplained fatigue

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