March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer – cancer of the colon or rectum – is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Screening saves lives. Family history of the disease is not a prerequisite to begin screening with a colonoscopy at age 50. A colonoscopy is a test in which a doctor uses a longer, thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. The test is recommended every 10 years.
Laura Boelter of Henderson, director of Sibley Medical Clinics, is thankful she had her first screening, at age 51, on Nov. 9, 2009. Boelter may be well known in Gaylord because she is the former manager of Heritage House.
Boelter had a colonoscopy and it was discovered that she had a “good sized” tumor. She has no family history of the disease and did not have any of the common symptoms.
Boelter said she waited to have a colonoscopy done in order to receive anesthesia to be put to sleep during the procedure. Immediately after waking up, she found out she had a tumor. A biopsy was taken at the time of the test. She had her test on Monday, and by Friday, learned that her tumor was cancerous.
Boelter was referred to Dr. Robert Madoff, a colorectal surgeon at the University of Minnesota. She underwent six weeks of radiation and oral chemotherapy. She will soon be having surgery. Her surgery will be followed up with six months of chemotherapy.
Boelter recalled that she had no symptoms. According to the CDC, some people with colorectal cancer have blood in or on the stool (bowel movement), stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away, and losing weight and not knowing why.
Looking back, Boelter was on a weight management program and was losing weight on purpose. However, she remember that a couple times she couldn’t figure out why she lost weight, although she was exercising more.
Although Boelter had no family history of colon cancer, her father had bladder cancer and her mother had breast cancer. The surgeon told her getting diagnosed with cancer was “just bad luck.”
Since completing her radiation and oral chemotherapy, Boelter said she has received encouraging news that there is no sign of a definitive tumor right now. The radiation and chemotherapy treatments have done their job, she said. She is confident that she will have a positive outcome when her treatment is complete.
Boelter encourages people to ask their primary care provider for a high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing. This screening is recommended every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For this test, the patient is responsible for sending a sample into a laboratory.
It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control that as many as 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were screened routinely. In most cases, colorectal cancer develops from precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best.
Medical experts recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables and whole grain products to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes.
Boelter admitted that many people are putting off having the test because of high insurance deductibles, pain, discomfort, and required preparation for the test. Insurance will usually cover the screening because it is a preventive test, she said.