Early screening for colon cancer saves lives

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Karen Abernathy – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, but it is also one of the most treatable cancers. But in order to catch it early, or before it even begins, early screening is critical.

Registered nurse Alanda Alfred knows firsthand how important early screening is.  She takes care of patients every day and didn't waste any time when she noticed changes in her own body. She said her bowel movements were irregular, and she scheduled an appointment with gastroenterologist Dr. John McKee.

Because of her symptoms and other concerns, including blood in her stool, at age 37 she was scheduled for a colonoscopy. She believes the test may have saved her life.

"By having a colonoscopy early, it was caught in the early stages and it was benign. And if I had waited it might have turned into cancer," Alanda said.

She said doctors found the colorectal mass in April, and removed it before it became cancerous.  Dr. John McKee said regular screenings save lives.

"This is one of the most preventable cancers we fight today," McKee said.

Thanks to the early test, and Alanda's intuition about paying attention to changes in her body, she got the help she needed.

"I feel great. I feel relieved."

Dr. McKee said Alanda is a good example of why early and regular screening is so important, beginning no later than age 40; earlier if you have symptoms or a family history of the disease.

"At age 40, we want to emphasize the fecal blood test where the stool is tested for blood. It's a simple test," McKee said.

He recommends the fecal blood test every year after age 40, and if it is positive for blood, a colonoscopy may be ordered, as it was for Alanda.

Alanda hopes her story will encourage others to get tested.

"The only way it was diagnosed was a colonoscopy. That's why I personally think, if you are having symptoms, listen to your body and seek medical attention."

Dr. McKee said that while diet and exercise are important, regular screening is the single most important way to reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer.

"The number one thing we recommend is adhere to screening recommendations. Some people don't even have any risk factors, so adhere to the screening guidelines.  Test blood in stool at age 40, and every year after that. And at age 50, get a full colonoscopy. That screening tool helps reduce your risk seven fold over diet and other modifications."

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