Published on March 12, 2021

Colonoscopies save lives, regardless of age

The simple fact is colonoscopies save lives. Colorectal cancer survivor, Aaron Lund, wishes he could shout this fact from a mountain top. Lund, a nurse at Essentia Health, noticed some abdominal discomfort and blood in his stool when he decided to check in with his primary care provider.

A colonoscopy was ordered. For Lund, cancer hadn’t even crossed his mind. He was active, in good health and young – only 33 years old at the time. Plus, he didn’t fit into the high-risk categories. Even with all of this on his side, Lund was shocked when he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer.

Lund underwent surgery and chemotherapy to treat his cancer. Today, a little more than a year out from his colonoscopy and cancer diagnosis, he is cancer-free. While he’ll continue to undergo regular monitoring, he’s doing well and hopes to stay that way for a long time to come.

Dr. Kimberly Kolkhorst, a gastroenterologist at Essentia Health, shares that there has been an alarming increase of colorectal cancer diagnoses in patients under the age of 50. Since the 1990s, in fact, the rate of colorectal cancer has more than doubled among adults younger than 50. This trend is being seen worldwide. As in Lund’s case, since colorectal cancer is usually not on the minds of these patients, they often delay seeking care and are found to have a more advanced stage of cancer upon initial diagnosis. This makes the cancer harder to treat and leads to less favorable outcomes.

Dr. Kolkhorst says research is being done to figure out why they’re seeing an increase in a younger demographic. Data suggests that it’s likely related to:

  • poor diet
  • lack of exercise
  • higher obesity rates

“It’s so important for even younger people to be proactive with their primary care doctor,” Dr. Kolkhorst says. “If they notice any changes in their bowel habits, blood in their stools, abdominal pain or weight loss, they need to discuss it with their doctor to see what might be going on.” In some cases, a colonoscopy may be ordered.

A colonoscopy is a procedure performed with a fiber optic scope containing a camera and a light that doctors can insert into the colon, otherwise known as the large intestine.

“Not only is it diagnostic, meaning we can look for cancer or polyps that could turn into cancer, but it’s also therapeutic in that we can remove those precancerous growths or polyps at the same time,” Dr. Kolkhorst explains.

The most important thing when it comes to colorectal cancer is to catch it early, before it spreads. Prevention and early detection are key to increasing survival rates. Lund points out, “a day of prep and a few minutes for the procedure were a small price for saving my life.”

The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45.

You can learn more about colorectal care by visiting our website at EssentiaHealth.org. If you have any concerns, please consult your primary care physician.

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