Early Detection is Key in the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer
Northwestern Memorial Hospital February 26, 2011
As a newlywed at the age of 55, Rod Simon was turning over a new leaf. He was living in a new city, starting a new job and enjoying time with his wife.
CHICAGO, IL – As Simon got established in Chicago, he paid a visit to a primary care physician for an annual check-up, something he hadn’t done in years. As the physician performed the physical, he explained that Simon should schedule a colonoscopy since colorectal cancer screening is recommended beginning at age 50. Simon listened, and scheduled an appointment; a decision that likely saved his life. During the screening, a large polyp was identified in Simon’s colon and removed. Even though he felt healthy, testing revealed that Simon had colorectal cancer, a disease that has few symptoms until its later stages.
“I was shocked to learn I had cancer. I didn’t have any symptoms and I felt fine,” said Simon. “I found myself asking ‘why now’ since I had just started a new chapter in my life.”
While it was a very concerning diagnosis, there was good news too – the cancer was limited to the colon and had not permeated the colon wall, which meant it had not spread to other parts of his body.
“When colorectal cancer is detected early, it is very treatable and there is a very good chance that the patient will once again be cancer-free,” said Michael Williams, MD, gastroenterologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "Colonoscopy is a relatively quick, well-tolerated procedure that plays an integral role in preventative health care."
To ensure the cancer was gone and to reduce the chance of reoccurrence, Simon underwent surgery to remove a portion of his colon.
“I wanted to be sure the cancer was gone and didn’t want to chase it for the rest of my life,” said Simon. “If I had gotten a colonoscopy sooner, it’s possible we could have removed the polyp before the cancer was even present. I wasn’t going to wait and see what happened.”
Simon, who is now cancer-free, says he is more aware of his health today than he was previously.
“This experience has made me more in tune with my body,” said Simon. “I also make a point to schedule regular check-ups and have open dialogue with my doctor.”
Excluding skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society* guidelines for colorectal cancer screening recommend men and women get a colonoscopy every ten years beginning at age 50, sooner for patients who have a family history of the disease.
“Regular screening is your best defense against colorectal cancer,” adds Williams. “It’s important that people do not delay appointments, but rather take a proactive role in their health.”
“Nobody looks forward to a colonoscopy,” said Simon. “But the truth is it’s not so bad. And it’s a small price to pay to protect you from colon cancer.”
Learn more about Northwestern Medicine Colonoscopy Services.