Keith Walraven is glad he listened to his doctor.
He’s a project manager at Sanford Construction, and 46 years old. In May of 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended adults age 45-75 be screened for colorectal cancer. The previous recommendation was for adults age 50-75.
Importance of screening starting at 45
Since he fell into the new age recommendation, he asked his primary doctor if colorectal screening was a good idea. His doctor urged Walraven to get a screening — colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, with the highest mortality rate behind lung cancer.
“We know we’ll diagnose 150,000 cases of colon cancer this year. We know that roughly 50,000 patients will die of colon cancer this year,” said Jeff Murray, M.D., a gastroenterologist and medical director of the Sanford Health endoscopy unit in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“The most common symptom of colon cancer is no symptom,” said Dr. Murray. “Which is why we really recommend screening, because how else is a patient going to know?”
Symptoms indicate advanced cancer stage
By the time most patients display symptoms, colon cancer is often in an advanced stage.
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the stool
- Changes in bowel habits
- Changes in stool caliber
Dr. Murray said family history, obesity, and smoking will all increase the likelihood of a colon cancer diagnosis as well.
Thankfully, Walraven didn’t have any of these symptoms, or risk factors.
“For me, it was just that I’d rather know. And, the more I looked into it, as far as all the types of cancers that are out there, this is one where you really want to catch it early, and take out any polyps they find before they turn into cancer,” said Walraven.
So, he went in for the colonoscopy.
Dr. Murray found two “good sized” pre-cancerous polyps.
He removed the polyps immediately.
“We know not all polyps become colon cancer. But, we do know that all colon cancers are derived from colon polyps. So, removing a colon polyp will prevent colon cancer over 90% of the time,” Dr. Murray explained.
“I was 45 when this happened,” Walraven said. “Had I waited the five years, which was the previous age recommendation for colon screenings, there’s a good chance it might’ve developed into cancer. Something might’ve happened. So, to hit it early was really, really good because I don’t have anything to worry about right now.”
‘It’s not a hard thing to do’
Walraven would recommend everyone who falls into the age group get screened immediately, and not to wait.
Walraven took the right steps by discussing screening options with his primary care provider.
There are multiple screening options, including a colonoscopy, or stool tests such as FIT or Cologuard.
Get screened: Cancer screening options available at Sanford Health
“I mean, it’s not a hard thing to do. The procedure goes by like a breeze. You don’t even know anything has happened,” he said.
Some patients’ reservations stem from the prep work that comes with getting a colorectal screening. However, Walraven said while “it’s not necessarily fun, it’s again not a hard process,” and the benefits greatly outweigh the detriments.
“There’s a bit of a stigma associated with having a colonoscopy. There’s a little bit of a fear factor about drinking the prep the night before,” said Dr. Murray. “But, quite frankly, the prep is much easier now than it used to be. It’s a split-dose prep. So, they drink half of it at about five o’clock or so, and the other half about four hours before the procedure.”
“This is key, because it allows us to have the colon as clean as possible so we can pick up polyps. And that’s how we’re really preventing colon cancer,” he added.
“It’s something that’s so easy to do, safeguarding yourself from possibly developing colon cancer. When it’s that easy to do, why wouldn’t you do it?” said Walraven.
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