An alarming number of curable cancers are diagnosed at late stages, in spite of widely available accurate screenings.
“People get mammograms, PSAs; those are the more well known things for breast cancer, prostate cancer - but the truth is those detect early cancers. The good news about colonoscopies is that it can actually prevent cancers because technically polyps are the things that grow up to become cancers,” says Dr. Janette Gaw, a colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
Although a colonoscopy is the gold standard for early detection, new reports found over half of all colorectal cancers were not picked up until the disease was past the most easily curable stages.
“I’ve had a lot of people come in to see me to get their colon cancers removed and they’re kicking themselves going ‘you know my family doctor had told me to get this colonoscopy many years ago but something always came up and I never got it done and here I am’,” says Dr. Gaw.
Helen Thompson was a latecomer when it came to diagnosing her disease, which prolonged her treatment process.
“I found out I had colon cancer and it was stage three. I had to have eight months between chemo and radiation.”
The same screening that detected her advanced cancer likely would have caught it earlier.
“They found it with a colonoscopy and then immediately operated and took part of my colon,” says Helen.
Helen is a survivor, but others aren’t so lucky.
“Colorectal cancer is actually the second cancer killer in the country,” says Dr. Gaw.
Experts advise regular screening for colorectal cancer in men and women over age 50, even earlier if they have a personal history.
“If you have a family history of colon cancer, especially early onset colon cancer meaning your mom or your dad had colon cancer at a young age, then you should get a colonoscopy a lot earlier,” says Dr. Gaw.
The goal is to put widely accepted screenings to work, saving lives.