12-year-old draws attention to colon cancer gene

As the school year begins, most middle school students are focused on scoring new clothes, notebooks and a cool backpack. But 12-year-old Ansleigh Adkins has a more serious topic on her mind: colon cancer.

Ansleigh recently found out that she carries a hereditary gene – shared by her late aunt and father – that puts her at a higher risk for developing the disease.

"Her family has a known history of colon cancer and a syndrome called familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP," said Dr. Matthew Kalady, a colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

FAP is a rare genetic syndrome that causes polyps to form in the colon at a young age. If left untreated, doctors say it is certain that patients will go on to develop colon cancer.

"Ansleigh had over thousands of polyps in her colon,” Kalady said. "Her colon is about 3 feet long, and when you think about all the polyps in there, there's very little spots of normal lining of the colon."

As a result of her diagnosis, Ansleigh had her entire colon removed through a two-inch incision during surgery at Cleveland Clinic. The procedure will help lower her risk of cancer, and Ansleigh hopes that her experience will encourage others to pay attention to their family history and get screened as well.

"You want to make sure you're healthy and everything,” Ansleigh said. “You don't want to be sick your whole life."

For more information on Cleveland Clinic, visit Clevelandclinic.org.