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New Ulm Medical Center

Early Colon Cancer Screening Key to Detection

Linus Kral knew his risk of developing colon cancer was higher than average because his father had the disease before he died in 2007.

Most men and women should begin regular screening colonoscopies at age 50 and then at regular intervals thereafter, said Karl Papierniak, M.D. At 50, the risk of developing colon cancer increases.

However, people like Kral who have a family history of colon cancer may need to begin screenings even earlier, said Dr. Papierniak, the surgeon who treated Kral. “You should talk to your doctor if you have a close relative who has had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer about when it is best for you to start screenings,” Dr. Papierniak said.

Dr. Papierniak is a board certified general surgeon at New Ulm Medical Center. He said a person’s best bet is to talk to their doctor about when they will need to repeat the screening. For most people it’s every 10 years but it could be sooner depending on each case.

Kral, 68, a semi-retired corn and hog farmer who lives in Sleepy Eye, said he is glad he took action on his doctor’s advice to get a colonoscopy.

His first screening colonoscopy seven years ago showed a few polyps, but none to be concerned about.

Because of his family history, he had a second screening colonoscopy in February. Kral had noticed some blood in his stool but didn’t tell his doctor until just before his colonoscopy. “I know I prolonged it longer than I should have,” Kral said. This time his surgeon found a polyp that was suspicious. It turned out to be an early colon cancer.

Kral had surgery in March to remove a small part of his colon and is undergoing chemotherapy as a precaution to prevent the cancer from returning. Kral and his doctor believe his prognosis is very good because his cancer was caught in an early stage.

“There is absolutely no question that he is going to do much better than if he waited until he had developed a more serious cancer,” Dr. Papierniak said.

When to Start Screening

Kral said he keeps busy to stay in shape. His part-time job delivering boar semen to hog farms three days a week and helping a neighbor on his farm in spring and fall provide a good workout, he said.

“It turned out to be a very good idea that I had another screening colonoscopy,” Kral said. “I think I’m in fairly good health for my age and I have some years left in me. So it’s good that I had this taken care of.”

If there is a family history, discuss screenings with your doctor. When to start screenings will depend on how many family members had colon cancer, how close the relatives are, and at what age they were diagnosed, Dr. Papierniak said. The risk is higher if it is a mother, father, sister or brother. You also may need to begin screenings earlier if you have inflammatory bowel disease or other genetic syndromes.

A colonoscopy involves the doctor inserting a long, thin, flexible lighted tube inside the rectum to look for polyps or cancer in the colon.

Not all polyps become cancer, Dr. Papierniak said. “But most colon cancers start out as non-cancerous polyps.”

Procedure Is Painless

Many people know they should have a colonoscopy but put it off because they are afraid. They might fear the technical aspects of the test or the results. “Those are not good reasons,” Dr. Papierniak said.

As Kral found, colonoscopies can be life-saving. “If you wait until you have symptoms and your colon cancer has progressed further, your odds of a cure go way down,” Dr. Papierniak said.

People also are afraid it will be unpleasant. But that’s not true either.

“It’s a fact of life that you have to do the bowel prep so we can see inside your colon,” Dr. Papierniak said. “But I can honestly say that the vast majority of people do not experience discomfort when undergoing a colonoscopy.”

Dr. Papierniak told Kral they have a date for another colonoscopy in a year. “Putting it that way I don’t know that I can refuse him,” Kral said.

For more information about colorectal screening, call 507-217-5011 to schedule an appointment with your provider.

Source: Krames StayWell
Reviewed by: Karl Papierniak, MD
First Published: 05/01/2012
Last Reviewed: 05/01/2012