By Anita Brikman
WASHINGTON. (WUSA9) - There are only a few days left in March, which happens to be Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colonoscopy is one of the few medical tests that can catch cancer before it starts.
WUSA 9's Anita Brikman is very passionate about this issue, because she lost her own father to colon cancer when he was just 58 years old. Anita says once her dad was diagnosed, his siblings were tested, and two of the three had polyps removed that could have developed into cancer. Colonoscopies may have very well saved their lives, and the same is true of a young Virginia woman Anita recently interviewed named Caitlin O'Dwyer.
Last summer, she was experiencing symptoms of a stomach ulcer, and Caitlin's gastroenterologist performed not just an endoscopy to check her stomach lining, but a colonoscopy as well. She had not only a stomach ulcer but a polyp, found by doctors in the lowest section of her colon.
Dr. Lawrence Stern, M.D., a colorectal surgeon with the Inova Health System says, "It was an extremely benign, average looking polyp. For all the world, you would have thought this was a completely benign polyp. Typically, it's removed and that's the end of the story."
It was actually cancerous. And in fact, although it was an early malignancy, the cancer cells came right up to the edge of the tissue removed. Caitlin needed surgery, but had to decide how aggressive she wanted the procedure to be.
Caitlin says, "In the end, I took the most aggressive option because I'm 28 years old and the less aggressive option left too much chance in my opinion for the cancer to come back."
Dr. Stern performed a colon resection procedure, and Caitlin needed to take a month off from work for the recovery. Now, she is healthy and cancer-free. Caitlin knows she has to undergo colonoscopies more often, something that doesn't bother her in the least.
She reasons, "People say it's annoying to have a colonoscopy, but it saved my life. So I have no problem having one every year; it's not that big of a deal!"
If you don't have a family history of this disease, the first screening is recommended at age 50. Symptoms that would signal an earlier evaluation is needed include changes in bowel habits, constipation that doesn't go away, or rectal bleeding.