Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Bottom Line on Colon Cancer

     There's no way to dress it up, no way to paper it over. I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy next week. I've already started my preparation -- no aspirin or Advil for a week ahead, no raw fruits or vegetables for five days. But I've yet to start in on the heavy stuff.

     B and I have both had a colonoscopies. B is blessed with good genes and a clean alimentary tract, and only has to get tested once every ten years. But I always seem to have a few bits and bumps that the doctor has to remove. I'm on the five-year rotation.

     Now my time is up. (I actually have a close-up photo of my colon from my last test. But don't worry, in the interest of retaining my PG rating, I am not including that photo . . . just a picture of an innocent-looking box).

     So in other preparation for my test  -- getting ready for it emotionally, rather than physically -- I've done a little research into this disease, which according to my gastroenterologist is the second most common cancer killer in America today.

     Colon cancer and cancer of the rectum -- sometimes lumped together as colorectal cancer -- typically begin with the growth of a polyp, small abnormal tissue that can appear on mucus membranes. You can get polyps in your stomach, sinus, uterus, bladder or vocal chords. Or in your colon. Most are benign. Some can eventually progress to cancer, but it's a slow process that usually takes five to ten years.

     The symptoms of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits, bleeding, anemia, bloating or unexplained fatigue. But the sneaky thing about colon cancer, as in many forms of cancer, is that the symptoms often don't show up until it's too late. There is one test -- for fecal occult blood -- that can detect bleeding in the colon long before it becomes visible to the naked eye. But the test is not particularly accurate -- the bleeding may not show up, or it could be due to something as simple as hemorrhoids.

     If you test positive for occult blood, or for those of us over age 50, especially if there's any family history of colon cancer, doctors typically recommend going on to the next step, which is a colonoscopy. There are variations on the procedure -- for example, one option is the virtual colonoscopy, done with computer imaging -- but the usual method involves a doctor snaking a thin tube equipped with a camera and cutting instrument up the length of your colon. If there's a polyp . . . snip, snip, and it's gone, long before it turns into cancer. The procedure is done with minimal risk and usually no adverse effects.

     I have undergone four previous colonoscopies. They were always covered by my old insurance, after a $50 copay. Now I'm on Medicare. Honestly, I haven't checked. But I believe Medicare will cover most of the cost. But even if I end up getting billed for a few hundred dollars, I figure it's worth it if it, literally, saves my ass (oops, there goes my PG rating).

     I first heard of this test back when I was 50 years old and went for my usual physical checkup. The doctor asked me if I had a family history of polyps. I didn't know. We didn't talk about such things in my family. When he explained the procedure, I was horrified. I really couldn't believe he'd do that to me!

     I drove home in a panic and called my parents. Did they ever hear of this? Did they ever have polyps? "Oh yeah, sure," they told me offhandedly. "We go in every few years. The doctor usually finds something, but he takes it out, cleans us up, and we're good to go. No problem."

     My parents were never very good at talking about the facts of life. These were the real facts of life.

     I managed to put this indignity off for a while, but eventually I went for the procedure. And now -- proving that human beings can get used to almost anything -- it no longer seems quite so shocking to me. It's become almost routine, like it did for my now dearly departed parents. Okay, the preparation is a little nasty. You do, after all, have to clean out your colon so the doctor can see what he's doing. But, hey, let's be mature about this.

     If you want to know more about colon cancer, the WebMD page on colorectal cancer is a good place to start.

     In the meantime, about ten years ago, I gave up eating red meat, in part because the consumption of red meat, especially processed meats like bacon or lunch meats, supposedly increases your risk of contracting colon cancer. I gave up smoking long ago, and I try to get a decent amount of exercise and keep my weight at close to normal levels (with limited success) -- all of which is supposed to help you avoid the perils of colon cancer, as well as any other kind of cancer.

     If I sound flip about what is really a serious disease, I just don't know how else to approach it. And beyond taking the usual precautions, I guess there's nothing else to do but hope for the best. Wish me luck!

25 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

Clever title.:)


I've never had one. Should though. Two friends died of undetected until last minute. Exactly 5 weeks between diagnosis and death.

Good for you Tom. Keep That Reaper away.

XO
WWW

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I am a19 year colon cancer stage 3 survivor. Had operation but opted out of chemo and changed my life style.
Wishing you all the beat. I had many of those nasty scpoes in the beginning of recovery.

gigi-hawaii said...

I was told by my doctor that the best way to prevent colon cancer is by having frequent colonoscopies and removing polyps before they become tumors. I have been having colonoscopies since 1979 when I was diagnosed with proctitis and then later with colitis. The inflammation does move up the colon gradually. It is an auto immune disease so I take medication to suppress the immune system. So far so good. Absolutely no cancer.

Snowbrush said...

I had polyps 48 years ago but none since. When I think if colon cancer, I often think of Elizabeth Montgomery because she died of it.

Tom Sightings said...

Wisewoman, I'm surprised the experience of your two friends hasn't scared you into it. To Heidrun, Gigi and Snowbrush ... congrats on your clean bill of health!

Anonymous said...

I am due for another colonoscopy but am going with Cologuard this time. I just sent in my sample. I had to mail my bowel movement via UPS to the lab. I should hear back from my gastro doctor this week and then will decide whether to go ahead with another procedure.

My PCP told me in all the years he's been practicing (he's in his 70's), he only had 2 patients who had colon cancer and they never had a colonoscopy.

Sending good thoughts all is well.

Red said...

For those of us who've had this test many times , good luck. I remember taking my friend to the hospital early one morning for surgery for colon cancer. He looked rough and felt rough as he'd gone through the prep and then had the fear of cancer.

DJan said...

Most of us have had at least one colonoscopy. The prep is the hard part, but it's gotten easier in later years. Good luck! :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, the prep is worse than the procedure. May I humbly suggest that if you eat a light diet of chicken noodle soup and like that, the day before you start on the prep, it will go easier on you. Best of luck, and hope it goes well for you. Cheers..,=^..^=

P.S. I think I used lemon lime Gatorade for the prep liquid, too. Will you let us know how it goes?

Jono said...

I've had a couple of colonoscopies. So far, so good, but I lost two younger friends, both about 50 years old from colorectal cancer. It is a hard way to go.

I hope your procedure goes well and that everything comes out in the end.:)

Celia said...

Good for you getting it done. I get one every five years cuz my Dad had colon cancer twice. He recovered both times, tesimony to getting those icky tests done. Hope yours is easy and good news. I go the chicken soup route too.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! Good for you for getting your test. My older sister Ann died a couple of months ago because she didn't get the test....it never occurred to me to tell her to get the test...aren't all forewarned?? Unfortunately, by the time they caught it, it was too late. Very sad and so very unnecessary. Sure the test is a "pain" but I now know that the opposite is far, far worse. And my high deductible insurance actually paid everything for my last colonoscopy so that there wasn't even a co-pay. There is no excuse for anyone over 50 not getting the test. I very likely will save your life. ~Kathy

Anonymous said...

My son was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 10- imagine a 10 year old prepping. It’s been about 20 years and he has had many colonoscopys over the years. Still dreads them. So many people have inflammatory bowel disease (crohns and colitis) so the colonoscopy is part of their life.

Retirement Confidential said...

I'm on the five-year plan because I have the BRCA 1 mutation and have already had ovarian and breast cancer. Needless to say, I've had lots of medical procedures, and to me, colonoscopies are the worst. My thoughts are with you.

christina neumann said...

I still haven't had one and I'm 65. maybe this year. I guess since I already have cancer, there are somethings that I just accept. But maybe this year!
Good luck and then it will be done and over.

Tom Sightings said...

Thanks, Jono, I too hope the "procedure goes well and that everything comes out in the end!"

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I've had one but don't remember not being able to eat vegetables. Now I take the fecal blood test and so far, haven't needed another one. The prep was the hardest part. The procedure was easy for me, although one of my friends didn't get put out and said it was hell.

David @ iretiredyoung said...

Thanks for posting about this sometimes taboo subject. It can literally be a lifesaver.


When I read some of the low cost personal finance blogs, I do worry that some people may choose to save some dollars and miss such procedures. I was fortunate that my employer used to pay for a full medical for me, but now retired I'm going to have to do that myself. It's easy to think that we can save money by giving it a miss, but your post is a good reminder to make sure that we don't make that mistake.

Retiring Jeff said...

Agree with all that the prep for this procedure is not fun but getting the procedure done is very important. Had my first 10 years ago and am up to have it done again. Hope yours comes out ok (no pun intended). And thank you for using your blog to make folks aware of colorectal cancer and colonoscopy as a diagnostic tool. You may save a life.

Sally said...

By now, I’m sure you have had your colonoscopy. Not a fun thing to have; the prep is the hardest part. I have had a number of them because I have the worst kind of polyps that lead to cancer. I was on the two year plan, and then the one year plan. Finally, the one I had last year was clean, so I am on the five year plan again. I will be 78 when those five years go by. I promised myself I would not have another one after 75, but the doctor will no doubt disagree. Always better safe than sorry.

DDD said...

I am 66. I never have colonoscopy and never will. The more I read about colonoscopy the more I resist. UTI, puncture...
My former boss Herb had colon cancer before he was 50. Herb did have an ice cream sandwich every afternoon, and ate very little veggies. Herb modified his diet and he is still kicking at 80+.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why your "About Me" has still not been updated.

Tom Sightings said...

Because I'm lazy? Anyway, thanks for the reminder ... I'll get to it.

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