Northwestern Medicine Cancer Survivor Says Attention to Small Changes Saved Her Life

Northwestern Medicine
Cancer Care/Oncology March 07, 2016
A mother of three young children, Dina Pryhocki was 36 years old when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She was in great shape, a dance teacher in Lake County Illinois and a vegetarian with no history of cancer in her family.
Which is why she barely thought twice about the slight bit of blood she saw a couple times in the toilet after she went to the bathroom. She self-diagnosed it as hemorrhoids and felt a little silly even mentioning it to her gynecologist who recommended she get a colonoscopy just in case.
“It was a blur, but basically I woke up from the procedure and my husband and doctor were in my room,” said Pryhocki remembering the day back in 2008. “They told me they found a tumor. I couldn’t believe it. I had cancer.” 

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. This year, it's expected to claim the lives of nearly 50,000 people in the United States. It’s also the third most common cancer in the U.S., according to the 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but experts agree that this is largely due to a lack of awareness about the benefits of regular screening and prevention. Early detection from regular screening allows colorectal cancer to be effectively treated nine out of 10 times, or even prevented entirely. While it mainly impacts people older than the age of 50, colorectal cancer can occur at younger ages. In recognition of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, Northwestern Medicine® wants to help educate everyone about this preventable and treatable disease.
“Many patients think screening isn’t important unless they are experiencing symptoms consistent with colorectal cancer, but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Scott A. Strong, MD, chief of gastrointestinal and oncologic surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center. “Patients may not experience any symptoms, even if colorectal cancer has been present for a long time. Screening is meant to detect disease before it becomes cancerous and is intended for everyone who meets the criteria of the standard screening guidelines regardless of symptoms.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that everyone receive regular colonoscopy screening starting at age 50, but some individuals may be recommended to begin earlier if they have a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors. The CDC estimates that at least 60 percent of deaths from this cancer could be avoided if everyone 50 years and older had regular colorectal screening. Symptoms like blood on or in the stool, unexplained weight loss, or persistent stomach pain and cramping, can be signs of an advanced colorectal cancer.
“Despite what many people assume, colorectal cancer is not a disease that only affects men,” said Tara Troy, MD, a Northwestern Medicine physician who specializes in gastroenterology and internal medicine at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. “Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death for women, but it doesn’t have to be. Know your risk factors, pay attention to warnings signs and get regular screenings that can detect colorectal cancer early, when it’s small and easier to treat.”
A couple weeks after they found the tumor, Pryhocki had surgery to remove two feet of her colon. Doctors tested her lymph nodes to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread and since it hadn’t, no radiation or chemotherapy were needed. Pryhocki’s siblings were also screened and two of her three siblings had polyps removed.
“Sometimes the warning signs are small, but, I’m proof you have to pay attention to them,” said Pryhocki, who now owns STEPS Performing Arts Center in Lindenhurst. “I was home a few day after the surgery and back to dancing a few months later. My symptoms were easy to ignore and if I had done that, my story could’ve had a very different ending. Instead I had an easy surgery and have been cancer free ever since.”
To learn more about colorectal cancer care and prevention at Northwestern Medicine or to schedule an appointment, call 877.926.4664.
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