As we walked down the hall to the next patient’s room, the family practice resident who was shadowing me that month blurted out: “I have hemorrhoid bleeding sometimes.”
I don’t recall what we had been talking about, but it caught me a little off guard. In my most professional retort I smugly said: ” How do you know it’s hemorrhoids?”
I then received THE LOOK! You know, the one your kids give you sometimes that screams “DUH!” And, though he didn’t say it, I felt the reply implied the obvious – ”I’m a doctor.”
We moved on to the next room, and we finished our rounds, ending a rather long day without any last-second emergencies.
A year or so later, I got a call one evening. The same resident said: “I just got off of the treadmill, and I had a lot of bleeding.” This young man was the absolute image of health. He played college sports and had maintained his healthy lifestyle with exercise and eating right. He was highly energetic, entrepreneur-like. He had a lovely young family and a beautiful wife. There is no way at his age this should be anything bad.
I told him to come to the GI lab tomorrow, and we would check it out. I gave him instructions on preparation, and we planned for a late add-on exam the following day. The next day arrived, and we did a quick lower bowel exam called a flexible sigmoidoscopy (that is just like a colonoscopy, but we don’t go all the way around the colon). After the sedation wore off, I had the ominous duty of telling this young man and his wife that he had Stage 3 Colon Cancer.
Colon Cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States each year. Almost 150,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, and just fewer than 15,000 deaths will occur.
Sadly, most all of these are PREVENTABLE. No other cancer is preventable.
The impact on a family who is given the diagnosis of cancer is unbelievable. Everyone is affected, and this begins a parade of procedures, treatments, follow-up visits and never-ending worry.
It is always on your mind. Will it come back? Did they really get it all? What will happen to the kids? Now, rewind all of this, and REMEMBER – it is preventable.
We all should be guided by three simple rules:
- If you see blood in your stool…EVER… talk to your doctor. Don’t assume it is hemorrhoids, even though it may be. We have to KNOW THAT WE KNOW.
- When you reach the age of 50, even if you have no symptoms, no blood, no nothing … get your colon checked. A screening colonoscopy is safe and effective at preventing colon cancers by removing the precursor polyps that can grow over time and change to colon cancer. If you are African American, we suggest this begin at age 45.
- If you have a family history of colon cancer, then you should get the exam done perhaps earlier, especially if your family member had the cancer at an early age. You may have inherited the potential for colon cancer. But with screening at the right time, you DON’T have to GET colon cancer.
The Northeast Arkansas Colon Cancer Coalition has adopted the national goal of getting 80 percent of Americans screened by 2018. This is a lofty goal, considering we are at 52-55 percent now.
This year’s motto is “Get your Rear in Gear.” Don’t be too busy to prevent this deadly disease. If you have any questions please call St. Bernards Gastroenterology at 870.336.0472.
And remember, colon cancer is preventable!
Dr. B Matt Garner is a gastroenterologist at St. Bernards Gastroenterology. Dr. Garner completed his medical degree at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and his residency at the University of Tennessee. He is the Cheif of Gastroenterology at St. Bernards Medical Center as well as Associate Clinical Professor at UAMS – Northeast and NYIT at Arkansas State University. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Garner please call St. Bernards Gastroenterology at 870.336.0472.