March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month at B&B - Check Your 6!

colon

This article was written by B&B member Mike (mdevine).

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of discussing Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month with you. Badger and Blade’s efforts with raising awareness of this important topic have been incredibly successful, with the Check 6 initiative a model program that I’d love to see other large organizations emulate. For those who have participated previously, much of what follows will be familiar. Welcome back and please stay involved. For those reading about this for the first time, I hope this informs you on a potentially life saving topic and encourages you to get involved for both yourself and your loved ones.

Since initiated by President Clinton in 2000, March has been designated as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. This was done to spread awareness of the importance of screening for one of the only preventable cancers. Where, with most types of cancer, the best we can do is to find it early, colon cancer can often be prevented. While the majority of polyps don’t turn cancerous, most colon cancer begins years earlier as a benign polyp. These can be removed during a colonoscopy, dramatically lowering the risk of subsequent cancer. Screening also helps find instances of early-onset cancer, where treatment is easier with a much better chance of long term survival.

I’ve been a primary care physician for over 25 years. I advise patients to get screened on a daily basis. Most agree to get checked, but not all do. I’ve seen more people found to have polyps than I can count. While there is no way of knowing which would have developed malignancies, it is great to realize that many never had to face the life changing battle with cancer. I’ve also had many patients where aggressive screening found cancer early enough that a cure was possible.

A good example of this is a patient of mine named Bill. Early on in my practice, Bill came in as a new patient. He was in his late fifties at the time, and very active. On his first visit, we discussed his prior health screening; he had never had colon or prostate cancer screening before. He agreed to have a digital rectal exam performed as I assured him that if it was any consolation, it was no more pleasant from my end.

Unfortunately for him, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I found microscopic amounts of blood in his stool. I referred him for a colonoscopy and he was found to have an early stage of colon cancer. He had a successful partial colectomy and did very well.

For the next 25 years, I saw Bill about once every three months. We would talk about how active and happy he was, his experiences square dancing each weekend (well into his eighties), where he was quite a hit with the ladies, and every visit, he thanked me for the fact that he was still alive. He was always matter-of-fact about it. He had a great life and the joy and passion he lived it with were obvious. He passed away recently, and the fact that he lived life fully for a couple of extra decades is something that gives me great satisfaction.

While most of medicine is quite rewarding, other aspects are incredibly difficult. No textbook or medical school adequately prepares you to give people awful news. After all these years, it remains the hardest thing I have to do. When a bad report comes in, I immediately get a sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s hard to sleep, knowing what you have to tell the patient the next morning. When you sit with them and say “it’s cancer”, most everything you say afterwards gets tuned out. In the scheme of things, performing a digital rectal exam is infinitely more pleasant than trying to comfort someone during one of the most traumatic moments of their life. It is made even worse knowing that, despite all your admonitions, they skipped basic screening that could have prevented it or caught it much earlier.

That brings me back to Colorectal Cancer Awareness month.
If you are fifty years old or older, you should be getting routine screening for colon cancer. Despite being the second most common cause of cancer death, colon cancer is largely preventable.

There are several common ways to screen for colon cancer:
1. Yearly testing for occult blood through testing of stool specimens
2. Sigmoidoscopy ( looking with a short scope ) every five years and the gold standard
3. Colonoscopy every ten years.

If you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with colon cancer or adenomatous polyps before the age of 60, or two first degree relatives diagnosed at any age, screening should start at age 40 or 10 years younger than earliest family member’s diagnosis, whichever comes first. Some patients, like those with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis or Inflammatory Bowel Disease need even more aggressive screening, and should be seeing their physician regularly. If you fall into any of the above categories, please discuss further evaluation with your physician.

For those members who take the initiative to get screened, post here and you will get a neat badge next to your name. I believe that those who participated previously, and are therefore up to date on screening, get one as well. I’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that I helped convince a few members of this great place to get checked. If even one of you gets a couple extra decades as productive as Bill’s were, this will have been the best post I’ve ever written here.

For those who would like to get more involved and help spread the word about colorectal cancer awareness, you can help in many ways. Discuss it with friends and family. Spread the word on social media. Direct anyone with questions here, or to one of the on-line sites discussing cancer prevention. On March 4, I ask you to “Go Blue”, wearing blue for the day. Like pink is worn for breast cancer awareness, blue is used to raise awareness for colorectal cancer. For the month of March, change your avatar to a blue one supporting colorectal cancer awareness. Finally, the most effective approach is to share your stories. Several members have written to thank us previously, after B&B motivated them to get a colonoscopy. If you feel comfortable discussing your story, please post it here; it just may be what finally gets someone in to get checked. Badger and Blade has become my second family, and I know the rest of the team here feel the same. I’d like to extend my sincere thanks for all the hard work they’ve put into this effort. The thought that some will live longer, healthier lives makes this hard work more than worth the effort.

Sara

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  1. I get to be first? I am booked for a colonoscopy in a couple of weeks. I have a family history of colon cancer, though not any first degree relatives, thankfully. I will admit I am uneasy about the procedure and its small risks. Anyone got some comforting thoughts?
    It's really a piece of cake. The night before, you will be in the bathroom. The next day, you get great drugs and the procedure is over before you know it. Take heart that if they find anything, the likelihood is that it's early and easily taken care of.
    I have had it done 3 times. They removed polyps each time and I never had any pain or after effects. I did have 1 after effect, peace of mind.
    T.Orso
    I get to be first? I am booked for a colonoscopy in a couple of weeks. I have a family history of colon cancer, though not any first degree relatives, thankfully. I will admit I am uneasy about the procedure and its small risks. Anyone got some comforting thoughts?
    Thanks guys. My brother advises me that the prep is more difficult than the procedure itself.

    No dinner? A date with the toilet? No morning coffee, or breakfast? Sounds grim indeed.

    I'm sold on the peace of mind part.
    Just finished mine 2 weeks ago. The procedure itself is nothing at all. The "prep" is a PIA...pun intended. It is a quick way to lose a couple pounds, that's for certain.

    Some GI doctors will also give you a picture of your colon from the inside; you can take it home and hang it on the wall:blink:. Now that can be just a bit disturbing.....
    matwho
    ... I did have 1 after effect, peace of mind.


    Even if they find something it is better to know and deal with it than not know before it is too late. They caught my issues early.

    Nsgators
    I have just over 3 more years before I turn 50, but my brother is over 50. I'll have to make sure my brother got tested. He's over 50.


    Thanks for spreading the word.
    I'll just jump in on the bandwagon. The prep is somewhat uncomfortable, but just that - uncomfortable. There's no pain, no stress and it's a sit down job.

    The procedure itself is easy. You'll need to take the day off from work, a driver to drive you home after the procedure. Go with someone you love, take them out to lunch afterwards and enjoy.
    I'll be do for my second procedure this summer, along with a check down the throat. Hope to get them both done at same time..... Throat first please! I prefer the flavorless drink, I can't imagine drinking that much of one flavor.
    I am back home after my colonoscopy (and lunch).

    I had some trepidation about the prep and the procedure, but neither were a big deal at all. Would have been nicer if the drink weren't sweetened with aspartame in my opinion, but that's the smallest quibble. I didn't even feel hungry once I started in on that stuff.

    It was good to have exclusive access to a toilet for a couple of hours. And some reading material. I didn't sit there all of that time. I had a good sleep, after the first round of prep. Then more of the same in the morning.

    The procedure was only about ten minutes, with no discomfort. I got to look at the inside of my colon on the monitor. It was the best looking colon I have ever looked at, being the only one so far. I didn’t get a portrait to bring home. Do you have to pay extra for that? :huh:

    Clean bill of health. With my family history of colon cancer I am due for the next test in five years. OK. Now I know the routine.
    Upon my doctor's strong recommendation, I went in for a colonoscopy in early December 2015. Really, the worst part about it for me was to drink the two bottles of magnesium citrate the night before (sip it with a straw and opt for a morning procedure, someone advised me), which are really foul, and then to be up all night on the toilet evacuating one's bowels. The procedure, I don't recall at all as I was under sedation. I do remember being wheeled out on a stretcher to the procedural room. Others were also being wheeled out at the same time, for the same operation, so it was sort of like airplanes lined up on the runway prior to takeoff.
    I'm 32, and just had my first colonoscopy. I never knew my maternal grandpa because he got colon cancer I beleive in his 40s and died of it before I was born. My mom and her brothers therefore all got colonoscopies in their 30s, and had many polyps removed, but fortunately due to routine screening and removal they are all still alive. My primary care physician referred me in my 30s as well as a result of the family history, and today I just had my first colonoscopy and had a number of polyps removed. I'm not going to lie, it's not the most fun exam in the world, but a couple days of inconvenience are worth it if it let's me live to see my grandkids someday. I will also be encouraging my kids to not ignore screenings once they are of age, because not only is there history on my side, my mother in law just had colon cancer at around 49-50, so they are going to get it from my wife's side also. Fortunately my mother in law survived after having part of her colon removed, but the surgery has had some impact on her quality of life, so definitely get screened so that you don't get to the point of needing a surgery.