For the media

Self-care includes colon cancer screening

By The Health News Team | March 29, 2023
Alan Lewis of San Diego

Thanks to an at-home colorectal cancer test, Alan avoided a devastating diagnosis — and has a greater appreciation for regular screenings.

By all measures, Alan Lewis is a healthy and fit 45-year-old. He exercises regularly, eats a vegetarian diet and has no major health issues. He also knows the importance of getting routine cancer screenings.

Alan, an electrical engineer, received his at-home fecal immunochemical test (FIT) in the mail last year and liked that he could complete his first colorectal cancer screening from the comfort of home. The test can detect microscopic blood in stool, which may be a sign of precancerous polyps or colon cancer. In a few simple steps, he completed the test and mailed it back in the prestamped envelope provided.

A few weeks later, Alan was dismayed when he was notified that the test results were positive. “I was concerned and immediately asked my primary care physician about what to expect. She reassured me that when something is caught early, it’s usually easy for it to be addressed,” Alan says.

Follow-up colonoscopy provides more information

Just before Christmas, he had a colonoscopy to inspect further. However, he wasn’t looking forward to preparing for the procedure. “I had heard from other people that the colonoscopy prep was awful,” Alan says. “But when it came time to do it, I found the process to be easy and didn’t have any problems with it.”

During the painless procedure, Dr. Susan Chu, a gastroenterologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, found a large polyp — a growth of tissue on the inner lining of the colon — measuring almost 5 centimeters. About the size of a lime, it was the largest polyp Dr. Chu had seen all year.

Dr. Chu was able to remove the polyp during the colonoscopy and it was determined to be a tubulovillous adenoma (TVA). “This is a less common type of adenoma and it’s considered to have a higher risk of becoming malignant. Usually just 10% to 25% of adenomas are TVA,” Dr. Chu explains. “It is uncommon for someone his age to have one so large in size.”

While the growth was benign, or noncancerous, it had the potential to turn into cancer if it wasn’t removed. Polyps bigger than 1 centimeter have a greater cancer risk than smaller polyps. “I was told it’s likely that the polyp had been slowly growing for years,” Alan says. He’s now scheduled for a follow-up colonoscopy in two years to make sure he remains polyp- and cancer-free.

Regular screening saves lives

Alan is relieved that the growth was removed before it turned into something more serious and urges others to stay on top of their cancer screenings. “Before going through this process, I didn’t realize how preventable colon cancer is with regular screenings. Even if you’re healthy with no obvious symptoms like I was, you still need to be screened,” Alan says.

Now, Alan has a little more peace of mind and looks forward to maintaining an active lifestyle of mountain biking, hiking and traveling with his wife and three dogs. “I used to worry a little about what my first screening might find — now I don’t have that worry anymore. Don’t put off your cancer screenings — because it could be lifesaving. When something is found earlier, you’re increasing the chances of having a good outcome,” he says.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States. The most important step you can take to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is to get screened. Adults at low to average risk for colorectal cancer should begin screening at age 45. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and screening options.

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