Family history puts coast woman at higher risk for colon cancer

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

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - One of the main risk factors for colorectal cancer is a family history of the disease. That's why one South Mississippi woman knows she can never let her guard down when it comes to getting regular screenings.

Sixty-one year old JoAnne West had her first colorectal screening when she was only in her twenties, due to a strong family history.

"My mother died when she was 30, and her mother had died in her early fifties from colon cancer," West said.

So West and her siblings were all tested the first time when they were in their twenties.

"One of my sisters did have polyps that were about to burst, and ended up having an illeostomy when she was only 25."

West said thanks to that early screening, her sister is now 60 and doing well. Joanne's Gastroenterologist, Dr. Richard Chernecky with the Digestive Health Center in Ocean Springs, said early detection is the key.

"When caught in the earliest stages, it's nearly 100 percent curable," Dr. Chernecky said. "Really, no one needs to die of colon cancer."

Joanne has remained free of colon cancer, but she has had other battles.

"I've had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer, and a thyroid scare where they had to crack my chest open."

She admits it is frightening to get the tests, due to her family history. But she knows the screenings save lives.

"It's scary, but you have to work mind over matter and go through with it. It was definitely a lifesaver for my sister."

Dr. Chernecky said it's critical for people to follow recommended guidelines for screenings.

"It's very frustrating, because these polyps we see during colonoscopies can be diagnosed very quickly before they become malignant," Dr. Chernecky said. "I've seen many tragedies over the years because people are not vigilant about getting colonoscopies performed."

Chernecky said in addition to colonoscopies, it's a good idea to check for blood in the stool, which can begin with a simple free test at home.

"It's simple, painless, easy to do, and we can find out if there's blood hidden in the stool you may not see with the naked eye."

Click here to learn more about those free screening tests. Free test kits are available at select Good Neighbor Pharmacy locations. These non-invasive kits allow you to test yourself easily and painlessly in the comfort of your own home.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.