Colon cancer testing saves lives

By MIKE IGOE

The month of March means various things to many people. That includes the arrival of spring in Western New York (hopefully!), St. Patrick’s Day, the NCAA’s March Madness Tournament, and the winding down of Lent among other activities. The American Cancer Society would also like you to think about colon cancer awareness.

Colorectal cancer (the formal name for colon cancer) is the third most common cancer in men and women in the United States. Plus, it’s the third leading killer for men and women. Unlike lung and breast cancers, you typically do not have any symptoms until it becomes rather serious. I learned about it first hand since I was stricken by the disease in 2003. Thankfully with early detection, I’m around to tell my story almost 12 years later.

At age 50 I went for what was supposed to be a routine colonoscopy. That’s the test which detects the disease. I’ve been told by several doctors some people do not have the procedure done since they have a false idea about what takes place. You are asleep for the test and a doctor examines your inner “plumbing” with a tiny camera. The only annoying part is the “cleansing” process the day before. The liquid you need to drink basically gives you diarrhea. It’s necessary, though, for the camera to effectively do its job. I want to stress this is a very tiny camera which won’t be felt since you’re under anesthesia. It’s not the size of a camcorder or even larger as some people seem to think!

During this examination doctors are looking for polyps. Those are tiny little skin bumps that might be the early signs of cancer. One discovered inside of me was cancerous. I did require surgery in which a foot of my intestines was removed. Fortunately since the cancer was caught early, neither chemo nor radiation was necessary.

A colonoscopy is recommended when you turn 50. If you have a family history of colon cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends you get tested in your 40s. Turns out an uncle of mine died from colon cancer. I always assumed it was lung cancer since he was a heavy smoker.

A woman I interviewed a number of years ago called herself “stupid me” for not getting a colonoscopy. She was convinced that because she felt fine there was nothing wrong with her, The truth was she was at stage four of the disease and it took her life. Even if you’re reluctant, consider doing it for someone you love. You can find out a lot more about colon cancer (as well as other cancers) by visiting the American Cancer Society’s web site: www.cancer.org. Most medical insurances cover the colonoscopy. So that, too, should not be an excuse. In fact nothing should be an excuse since this simple procedure could save your life.

It certainly saved mine!

Mike Igoe is an assistant professor of communication at the State University of New York at Fredonia.