Young Kiwi woman's bowel cancer warning signs ignored by doctors

A Kiwi woman who suffered from intense stomach cramps for six months before a cancerous tumour was found in her colon has revealed the warning signs that were ignored by medical professionals.

To the doctors, Jess Thompson, from Auckland, appeared to be a healthy young woman who was experiencing gastro but what they did not know was that the intense stomach pains she was enduring were from something much more serious. 

In November 2021, Thompson started enduring severe stomach cramps that came on suddenly and lasted 48 hours. They were followed by diarrhoea and vomiting.

Aged 26 at the time, she went to the hospital's emergency department but they didn't do any tests and sent her away with medication for gastro. A day later, still suffering from the pain, Thompson went again but still no tests were done.

"It was brushed off to be a tummy issue," Thompson told AM.

Jess Thompson was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer.
Jess Thompson was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. Photo credit: AM

These cramps continued for six months until one day she was in so much pain that she called an ambulance and was rushed to Auckland City Hospital.

A blood test was done which found Thompson had an incredibly low blood count so four blood transfusions were done immediately. A CT scan and colonoscopy were done which revealed a harrowing discovery - a two-centimetre-long tumour in her colon.  

"I was stage four by the time that it was found. Who knows what could have been different had I had those extra six months to find out," Thompson said.

Thompson then underwent gruelling surgery to remove half of her large intestine followed by chemotherapy.

She underwent a gruelling surgery to remove half of her large intestine.
She underwent a gruelling surgery to remove half of her large intestine. Photo credit: Supplied

In January, she had her first scan since finishing treatment which brought the joyful news that she was in remission.

Appearing on AM, Thompson said she was frustrated that her symptoms were dismissed by doctors.

"I just feel like being a young person it is very easy to look at young people who are 'healthy' looking and brush it aside," she said. "I want to change that conversation, this is happening to young people."

Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand. According to Bowel Cancer New Zealand, early-onset cases of the disease (people diagnosed before age 50) are increasing but the National Bowel Screening Programme is only open to people aged 60-74.

It said delays to diagnosis often occur in younger patients due to individuals not seeking help when symptoms arise and health professionals not adequately investigating symptoms in younger people because they believe they are "too young" to have symptoms caused by bowel cancer.

"There is a bias around being young and sort of healthy looking that needs to change," Thompson said.