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Saved by colon cancer screening: Ruth's story

  • In November 1999, Ruth Edstrom got the news that changed her life. She had stage 4 colon cancer, and it had spread to her liver.

    The news overshadowed an otherwise happy life. Edstrom, then 50, had a new husband, a new grandchild, and a job she loved at a Minneapolis advertising agency.

    A history of digestive problems

    Several years before her colon cancer diagnosis, Edstrom began having digestive problems—bloating, a change in bowel habits and pain after eating.

    Two years before her diagnosis, she had even had a sigmoidoscopy and a barium enema - two tests used to screen for colon cancer. At the time, doctors believed she had irritable bowel syndrome.

    Colonoscopy shows cancer

    In 1999, Edstrom began to have rectal bleeding along with her other symptoms. A colonoscopy showed cancer.

    A few days later, she went to Abbott Northwestern Hospital for surgery to remove the cancerous section of her intestine. That's when doctors found that the cancer had also spread to her liver.

    "Fortunately, the cancer on my liver was in a place that was operable," says Edstrom.

    Timothy Sielaff, MD, PhD, president of the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®and a liver/pancreatic surgeon performed the liver surgery. After this, Edstrom went to Minnesota Oncology for seven cycles of chemotherapy.

    Colon cancer risk factors

    The average American woman has a 1 in 20 chance of getting colon and rectal cancer. Men have a 1 in 18 chance.

    You may be at risk of getting colon cancer if you have:

    Edstrom knew that an uncle died of colon cancer in his 70s, but she was not aware of any other risk factors.

    Screenings save lives

    Starting at age 50, people who have no risk factors for colon cancer should have regular colon cancer screenings. Individuals at higher risk should begin earlier.

    "While colon cancer is rare in people under 40, it's very common after age 50," says Robert McCabe, MD. "The goal of screening is to find the cancer early so it can be cured with surgery."

    McCabe encourages people of all ages to see their doctor if they notice these signs of colon cancer:

    • any change in bowel habits
    • persistent discomfort or bloating in the lower abdomen
    • rectal bleeding

    "The most important thing is for people to go get screened," says Edstrom.

    Although she's been cancer-free for years, Edstrom continues to get regular colon cancer screenings. "This has changed my life in ways I could not have imagined. I look at every day as a miracle." 

  • Source: Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Healthy Communities Magazine, spring 2002; Robert McCabe, MD, Minnesota Gastroenterology; American Cancer Society, Cancer Statistics 2009 Presentation
    Reviewed by: Timothy Sielaff, MD, PhD, FACS, president, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®
    First published: 08/17/2009
    Last reviewed: 08/17/2009

  • Ruth Edstrom speaks with another woman about colon cancer screening