If there were a screening that could prevent you from developing a deadly form of cancer, wouldn't you sign up? Unfortunately, about thirty percent of adults are not up-to-date on colorectal cancer screenings and are dying because of it. This message hits extra close to home for a local cancer nurse.
Michele Hurley is an oncology nurse navigator at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital. Her job is to walk cancer patients through the process from diagnosis to treatment to recovery. But for some, their own feelings will lead to a more advanced cancer. "Fear can cause people to die from cancer," said Hurley, "fear of getting screenings that are routine."
Colorectal screenings are at the top of that list. Colorectal cancer is the number two leading cause of cancer death, but it does not have to be. Hospitalist Ethan Yalvak says, "Sixty percent of all colorectal cancer deaths can be prevented with early screening."
At age 50, Hurley was due for her colonoscopy. "The first screening should occur at the age of 50, unless you have a family history of colorectal cancer, and then it should occur before then," said Dr. Yalvak.
Hurley began the prep the evening before, went into the hospital the next day and under sedation, had the colonoscopy that revealed four suspicious polyps. "Three of those four were what is called an adenomatous polyp. Those are the type that do evolve into colon cancer," she said.
Those polyps were removed during the screening. "You could say that I actually prevented myself from getting colon cancer," she said, "and so I feel really great about that."
Hurley has held the hands of others who were not so fortunate, those that put off the test and lived shorter lives because of it. "Sometimes they would even talk about that they had had symptoms for years, but they were so afraid of this test," she said, "this test is not anything at all, really. It's very easy."
If no cancerous polyps are found in a colonoscopy, you will typically not need another one for five years. Screening rates are lower in African-Americans and they are more likely to develop colorectal cancer.