Essentia patient serves as a reminder to be proactive about colorectal health
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so Essentia Health providers are reminding patients about the importance of regular screenings to detect colorectal cancer at its earliest – the most treatable stage.
For Essentia Health patient Carroll Minton, the importance of regular colorectal screenings is a topic with which she is all too familiar.
Carroll, 58 years old and a resident of North Fargo, had been putting off her colonoscopy. Like many Americans, she was hesitant to go through the unpleasant preparation required before the procedure. Since she couldn’t be convinced to get a colonoscopy, her doctor recommended an at-home test. Carroll obliged and her at-home test came back negative.
But when Carroll decided to get tested for celiac disease, her doctors wanted her first to undergo a colonoscopy. It was during this colonoscopy that Essentia Health gastroenterologist Kimberly Kolkhorst, MD, found a polyp dangling from her colon wall like a cherry on a stem.
A colon polyp is a small clump of cells that form on the lining of the colon. Most colon polyps are benign, meaning that they are noncancerous. But because they are due to abnormal cell growth, they can eventually become malignant, or cancerous.
In Carroll’s case, the polyp was cancerous. Fortunately, Dr. Kolkhorst was able to completely remove it endoscopically before it had the chance to spread. As part of her follow-up care, Carroll would need another colonoscopy in six months, where she was officially declared cancer-free.
Carroll continued to visit Essentia for regular screenings. A year after her follow-up colonoscopy, Carroll underwent another one, during which two more polyps were discovered and removed. And just a few weeks ago, nearly four years after the discovery of her cancerous polyp, Carroll went through a fourth colonoscopy. This time, nothing was discovered.
Upon reflection, Carroll says that she feels “very blessed,” but wishes that she had gotten checked sooner. While she never had any symptoms that concerned her, Carroll says she does have family history of colorectal cancer. Like Carroll, this family member survived because they had their cancerous polyp removed before it spread.
Urging folks to check in with their doctors and get regular colonoscopies, Carroll shared, “Had I not gotten the colonoscopy because of celiac testing, who knows, the cancer would have likely grown into the wall of my colon and spread.”
Dr. Kolkhorst agreed with Carroll.
“By undergoing a colonoscopy, we can detect colon cancer, but we can also PREVENT colon cancer by removing precancerous growths BEFORE they have had a chance to grow into cancer. In Ms. Minton’s case, I was able to endoscopically remove the cancer BEFORE it had a chance to grow deeper into the layers of her colon. This prevented her from having to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and has given her more time to enjoy her life, her family and her loved ones," said Dr. Kolkhorst.
She continued, “Like so many cancers, if we can diagnose colorectal cancer early, the complexity of treatment options is significantly reduced, life expectancy is prolonged and quality of life for the patient is greatly improved.”
More on colon cancer
Did you know that colorectal cancer is the second-most common cause of cancer death worldwide?
As with so many facets of your health, it’s best to be proactive.
It is recommended that you start screening for colon cancer at the age of 45 — if there is no family history of colon cancer, in which case you may need to begin screening sooner. Talk with your primary care provider to determine what’s best for you.
How do we screen for colon cancer? There are three common ways.
The most effective method is a colonoscopy, which uses a miniature video camera to examine the colon for any abnormalities, such as polyps. Minus the presence of polyps, and if there is no history of colon cancer, colonoscopies can occur every 10 years. Then there are a pair of stool-based tests. These rely on examining stool-sample irregularities that may prompt a colonoscopy.
Visit Essentia Health’s website for more information and resources related to colorectal cancer.