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Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Screenings Save Lives

Colleen Justus knows firsthand how important it is to stay on top of life-saving screenings. After an at-home colon cancer screening test raised concerns in 2021, her doctor performed a colonoscopy to remove several pre-cancerous polyps. A polyp is a small clump of cells that forms on the lining of the colon and, over time, can develop into colorectal cancer.

Since Colleen had initially delayed her colonoscopy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she wanted to make sure her loved ones were not doing the same. When she found out her older brother had not yet been screened, she shared her story with him and encouraged him to make his health a priority. “He’s always protected me, and this time, I got to protect him,” Colleen said. Her brother’s colonoscopy revealed that he had stage 3 colon cancer. On March 9, 2023, in recognition of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Colleen shared her and her brother’s story during a free patient seminar called “Screenings Save Lives” at Fairfield Medical Center’s River Valley Campus. The seminar also included a presentation from Dr. Isabel Manzanillo-DeVore of Fairfield Healthcare Professionals Gastroenterology.

“I want people to know not to put screenings off – it’s not worth the future consequences,” Colleen said. “Colonoscopies are not as scary as people think, and they are worth it if you can find cancer early.”

Known as the second deadliest cancer in the United States, colorectal cancer encompasses any cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. It often begins as benign polyps that cause little to no symptoms. By the time patients begin experiencing symptoms, which can include change in bowel habits, abdominal discomfort and rectal bleeding, the cancer may already be in the advanced stages.

Starting at age 45, both men and women who do not have a family history of colorectal cancer are encouraged to have a colonoscopy, according to recommendations from the American Cancer Society. This recommendation was lowered from 50 to 45 several years ago due to the fact that one in 10 people with colorectal cancer are diagnosed before age 50, even if they don’t have a family history. If you have relatives who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or additional risk factors, such as inflammatory bowel disease, your doctor may recommend that you get screened earlier than 45 or more frequently.

During a colonoscopy, the physician inserts a flexible, lighted tube into the patient’s rectum and colon to look for polyps or other signs of colorectal cancer, such as bleeding. If polyps are found, they can be removed during the procedure. Colonoscopies typically take less than an hour and cause minimal to no discomfort for the patient, who is sedated the entire time.

Routine screening is the best way to catch colon cancer in its earliest stages. Financial assistance is available to those who qualify. Call 740-687-8134 for more information.

Updated 2024.