A New Age
for Cancer Care

People in their 30s don't get colorectal cancer — or so Christine Benson thought.

That is, until November 2017 when she received a diagnosis a week after her 37th birthday. The Port Hope, Ont.-based artist with a four-year-old daughter felt her world was turned upside down.

That same diagnosis was similarly shocking for Paritosh Mehta, who was diagnosed in early 2018 at age 50.

"I thought to myself, 'But I have so much to do in life!'" Paritosh recalls. "I have a partner, I have aging parents to take care of. I have responsibilities and ambitions. Are these going to pass me by?"

Christine and Paritosh are increasingly less rare, as the rate of colorectal cancer in young adults is on the rise. Someone born in 1990 now has double the risk of developing colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared with people born in the 1950s.

Knowing that younger patients can benefit from specialized care, Sunnybrook created the Young Adult Colorectal Cancer Clinic. Dr. Shady Ashamalla, head of general surgery, leads a multidisciplinary clinical team that includes surgeons, social workers, and sexual health and fertility experts to address the distinctive needs of adults aged 50 and younger.

Diagnosed with colorectal cancer at 37, Christine is now cancer-free and back to playing with her daughter, Ella.

"Though it's a similar cancer care pathway whether a patient is 30 or 70, how the disease and treatment affects you is very different for a younger person," says Dr. Ashamalla. "Our clinic addresses needs specific to younger people that usually get glossed over, like 'Have you talked to your kids yet? What words did you use?'"

Christine greatly appreciated Dr. Ashamalla's empathetic approach, which put her at ease.

"There's a lot of fear, so it's easy to get ahead of yourself. But Dr. Ashamalla helped break down information into really manageable steps, always taking into account that I had a young daughter."

Dr. Ashamalla also focuses on streamlining the assessment process and using minimally invasive surgical methods so that patients are treated effectively with as little disruption to their full lives as possible.

For an active business professional like Paritosh, this approach was hugely beneficial. His cancer was diagnosed at an early stage, so Dr. Ashamalla could perform laparoscopic surgery to remove his tumour. Paritosh was back to work within three weeks, and working out at the gym in less than a month.

Paritosh was back at the gym one month post-surgery.

"I've had dental surgeries that were more complicated," he says.

Both Paritosh and Christine are now cancer-free and continue to be closely monitored at Sunnybrook. Thanks to the compassionate, personalized care they received, they have returned to the families and careers that they love.

"Dr. Ashamalla was always very realistic, but he told me right away that I would one day lead my life again like I did before," says Paritosh. "He was right."

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