SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - No one wants to talk about it and most are afraid to have a colonoscopy. For many, by the time they have the screening test to detect colon cancer, it's too late.
Velinda McWherter said she just put off the thought of having a colonoscopy because she didn't think she needed it until she found out she did. The gnawing pain on her right side, she check off as appendicitis, but it was colon cancer. The 66-year-old had to have about half of her colon removed. She didn't have to have chemo or radiation because she caught it in time.
It's a story that hits close to home for KSLA News 12 Anchor Domonique Benn, who also lost a dear loved one to colon cancer . Not only that, but her family history played a role in preventing colon cancer in her. It was her grandmother, the woman who helped raise her and whom she affectionately calls Madea. She says her Madea was full of life and the backbone of her family.
"We watched my grandmother fight to live," Domonique recalls.
Madea's fight ended quietly three years later, but Domonique says her grandmother's diagnosis and death may have saved her own life. Research shows that family history is a strong indicator of colon cancer and the only way to find it is through a colonoscopy.
"Even if someone has no symptoms what so ever as respect to their bowel habits, they should still get screened," says Dr. Amit Ahuja of Pinnacle Gastroenterology. "It is a screen test, it is looking for growths called polyps in the colon and getting those polyps out before something precancerous grows."
Although she was nowhere near the recommended age of 50 for screening, Domonique's doctor still recommended a colonoscopy because of her family history. Dr. Ahuja removed one polyp and explains how critical it was that she had the screening when she did. According to Dr. Ahuja, the polyp taken out was precancerous and less than a centimeter, but would have eventually grown into a cancerous lesion if it had not been removed.
Domonique says sadly her grandmother's colon cancer most likely started the same way, a small polyp growing for years before turning into cancer.
Although Dr. Ahuja wasn't Domonique's grandmother's doctor, he says he has seen cases like this before.
"I see a lot of first time patients having a colonoscopy and they are 10-15 years overdue for their colonoscopy and they come in at age 60-65. I find a big mass that ends up being colon cancer and I only wish they had come in sooner, because we know without a shadow of a doubt that if we had gone to this patient in time we would have either removed that polyp that had developed into a mass lesion and prevented colon cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer. It is also the third-leading cause of cancer deaths. Dr. Ahuja says it is the only preventable cancer in the body. He recommends every man and woman who turns 50 have a colonoscopy. In the African American community, he recommends screenings begin at age 45. Research shows minorities have a much higher chance of getting colon cancer although researchers haven't pinpointed exactly why.
Three years after Domonique's first colonoscopy and having her first polyp removed, she went back for her second colonoscopy. Getting ready for procedure begins a "prep" the day before. It's a cleanse to make sure the doctor can see clearly when looking for polyps in the colon. The procedure itself is easy and painless. "You are put to sleep for the 20-30 minute procedure, so you won't remember a thing," Dr. Ahuja explains.
Doctors then use a colonoscope, which a flexible tube with a camera on the end. The tube is attached to a monitor.
This time around, Domonique says Dr. Ahuja didn't find any polyps or evidence of cancer.
Tuesday kicked off Colon Cancer Awareness Month. For more information on symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer click here.