Colon cancer can threaten sooner than you think

Published: Apr. 25, 2019 at 3:02 PM CDT
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We are coming to the end of Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Most of us associate the disease with older people but that’s not always the case.

A new mother in her mid-thirties, Lena Munger was doing fine. She had some digestive problems but she figured it was not serious. At her doctor’s suggestion she had a colonoscopy.

“I was floored,” she said. “I was absolutely shocked. I had no thought, No one in my family has ever had colon cancer.”

But she did have colon cancer - stage two. She thought: I’m way too young for this.

The standard guideline for a colonoscopy is 50 but in her case that would have been far too late. As her surgeon points out, 50 is a guideline, not a hard rule.

Dr. George Dittrick, said, “What I always recommend to patients is certainly follow that standard guideline but also pay attention to your own symptoms. You know, if you start to develop changes in bowel function and bowel caliber blood in the stools of course, things like that, to pursue earlier evaluation and always to err on the side of caution. Honestly, we see a lot of patients in their thirties and forties here”.

Lena had surgery and chemotherapy. Now, two years later, she is disease-free and since her diagnosis she has even had another child.

She said, “Because I listened to my body and because I listened to the advice of the doctors and the nurses, I’m able to be here today. If I would have been so scared or not listened to the advice that people gave me I wouldn’t be here today.”

Dr. Dittrick said, “Pay attention to your symptoms and if things don’t seem right, get evaluated.”

Dr. Dittrick says family history is extremely important in catching colon cancer early. He talks about the ten year rule. For example if one of your parents was diagnosed with colon cancer at 45 you need to be screened at age 35. He says colon cancer survival rates are going up and one of the main reasons is improved screening.