RHOA Star Gregg Leakes' Cancer Diagnosis Explained

"Real Housewives of Atlanta" star NeNe Leakes announced Tuesday, June 28, that her husband Gregg's cancer had returned. During an exclusive interview with the Jasmine Brand, NeNe made the announcement, while asking for prayers. She added that he had undergone surgery and was expected to be released in about 10 days. She also said that Gregg had been in the hospital for a week, and had this type of surgery before.

Gregg was first diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2018, according to People. He began chemotherapy treatment, and in September 2019, NeNe said on an episode of The Wendy Williams Show that Gregg was cancer-free since May of that year (via Bravo TV).

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of death in young adults, and people born after 1990 are twice as likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer than people born in 1950. While the overall number of colon cancer cases in adults over the age of 50 has dropped, more younger people (those under the age of 50) are being diagnosed, according to the Colon Cancer Coalition.

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer begins in the lower part of the large intestine or rectum, and it can go undiagnosed until it reaches late stages, much like it did in Gregg Leakes' case (per People). In the early stages, polyps can appear, but the presence of polyps does not necessarily mean cancer cells are present. In addition, polyps may be too small to detect. That being said, polyps are not always present when there is cancer, which makes it tricky to diagnose (via Mayo Clinic).

It is not clear why polyps form. While anyone can develop them, people who are overweight, those over the age of 50, and people who have uncontrolled type 2 diabetes seem to be at greater risk (via WebMD). Individuals who have had them before are likely to get them again, and polyps are likely to form in those who have digestive issues. Most physicians recommend rectal screenings and removing polyps when they are found to reduce the risk of developing cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Colon cancer stages 0, 1, and 2

Colon cancer is divided into different stages, and some stages are further broken down into phases, as Healthline detailed. In the earliest stage of the disease, known as stage 0, the cancer has not moved beyond the inner layer of the colon (mucosa). The next stage, called Stage 1, indicates that the disease has spread beyond the inner layer of the colon to the submucosa.

In stage 2, the cancer has expanded beyond the submucosa. This stage has three phases, commonly referred to as 2A, 2B, and 2C. In stage 2A, the cancer has not passed completely through the colon. In stage 2B, the cancer has grown through the outside of the colon, but it has not yet made it to the lymph nodes. In stage 2C, the disease has spread to nearby organs and tissues, but it has still not made it to the lymph nodes.

Colon cancer stages 3 and 4

Similar to stage 2 colon cancer, stage 3 also has three phases (via Healthline). In stage 3A, the cancer has made its way to nearby lymph nodes. Stage 3B indicates that the disease has moved to the outer layer of the colon, nearby tissue and organs, and has been located in some lymph nodes. This stage could also indicate that the cancer has been discovered in at least four lymph nodes, but the cancer has not yet passed through the outer layer of the colon. Stage 3C means the cancer is found beyond muscle layers and is present in at least four lymph nodes, but it has not yet made it to distant tissues and organs (via Healthline).

Stage 4 colon cancer is separated into two phases. In the first phase, the cancer has spread to a distant organ, such as the liver. In the second phase, the cancer has been discovered in more than one distant organ, per Healthline.

Symptoms of colon cancer

Sometimes, symptoms of colon cancer do not appear right away. It can often be misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, or even hemorrhoids. It is also worth noting that in stages 1 and 2 of the disease, there are very few symptoms. There may be bleeding, but it is so light it is not easy to detect. However, sometimes a tumor will create a blockage in the intestine, which makes it easier to identify (via Verywell Health).

Some signs of the disease that become present in stage 3 include a change in bowel movements including diarrhea, constipation, and narrowing of the stool. Another symptom is blood in the stool, which would turn it a dark brown or black color. Rectal bleeding is another sign, which would look bright red. An urge to have a bowel movement after just passing one is another sign of colon cancer. Pain in the abdomen is also a symptom as well as weight loss, fatigue, and weakness (via American Cancer Society).

The survival rate of the early stages of colon cancer is relatively high; those diagnosed with stage 1 colon cancer have a survival rate between 80 and 95% and those with stage 2 have a survival rate between 55 and 80% (via Medicine Net).

Risk factors for colon cancer

Most cases of colon cancer occur in older individuals. However, it seems that people with other intestinal issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease have an increased chance of developing colon cancer. A family history also raises the chances of getting the disease. In addition, familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome, which are genetic disorders, increase the risk of colon cancer (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Lifestyle factors also play a part in who might be diagnosed with the disease. To help reduce your risk, the CDC recommends staying physically active and eating a diet that is high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables. The organization also pointed out that consuming high amounts of processed meats, smoking, and drinking alcohol can increase one's risk.

The chances of colon cancer returning depend on when it was first diagnosed. The disease is less likely to recur if it is discovered in stages 1 or 2, and more likely to recur in stages 3 and 4, as was true in Gregg Leakes' case (via People).