March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Since 1 in 18 of you will be affected by colon cancer, it could be a matter of life or death. With proper screening it doesn't have to be.
Karen Meyer knows her way around the Endoscopy Center on the Avera McKennan campus. She is a nurse here, but today she is the patient. She's about to undergo her 3rd colonoscopy. Her mom died at the age of 37 from colon cancer leaving behind 7 children ranging in age 17 to 6. Karen was six.
Karen says, "I'm so glad colon cancer awareness is so prevalent now. Back when my mom passed away from colon cancer in 1972 there wasn't much talk about it so she must have dismissed a lot the symptoms she did have."
Gastroenterologist Dr. Cristina Hill Jensen says, "The important thing to know is colon cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer in the U.S. Screening can prevent that. If we catch colon cancer early or even pre-cancer in polyps can prevent colon cancer early on."
Dr. Cristina Hill Jensen with the Avera Gastroenterology Clinic says the most effective way to prevent and screen for colon cancer is a colonoscopy (a full examination of the colon). If polyps are discovered they are removed and tested for cancer.
Dr. Hill Jensen, "The chance for survival if caught early on is 90%. If we find colon cancer that is very progressed and has spread those numbers lower to 10 to 20% survival so it's that important to catch colon cancer early and to prevent it. "
Most patients say the worst part isn't the procedure itself, but the prep work. The night before a colonoscopy you have to drink about a gallon of a salty tasting liquid laxative to clean out your colon. Karen Meyer says it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Karen says, "I really don't mind getting a colonoscopy. When I think of not being there for my children in their life. I have a 6 year old and a 9 year old that would be terrible because of that it helps me get through the prep the night before."
So she will continue to get screened every 5 years for her health and for her family. By the way, Karen has a clean bill of health. No polyps were found on this colonoscopy either. By the way, Karen has a clean bill of health. No polyps have been found in any of her three colonoscopys.
The recommended age to have your first colonoscopy is 50.
If it comes back clean you don't have to get another one for 10 years because it is a slow growing cancer. If you have family history the rules change and you should talk to your doctor but the conventional thinking is to start at the age of 40... Or 10 younger than when your family member died. For example, if your Dad died from colon cancer at the age of 44, you should have your first colonoscopy at the age of 34.