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Advertise on the Tentacle

February 19, 2003

You, Too, Can Survive Colon Cancer! GET TESTED!!!!!

John W. Ashbury

Several Frederick Countians will undergo surgery for cancer this week. Some have survived it before - and will again. One may ask: "How do you know that?"

Itís simple, really! Early detection.

The week before Princess Diana died in that horrible car accident in Paris more than five years ago, I had a sizable portion of my colon removed. I had a small tumor which turned out to be cancerous. But because I had had a physical every year since 1978, the tumor was detected early and removed before it had invaded other portions of my lower abdomen.

Unless you have been there, you will never understand the joy that comes from the words of your doctor when he says: "You wonít have to have chemotherapy or radiation. We caught it in time."

There are a variety of tests available to detect colon cancer. The most effective is a colonoscopy. But there are others which will do the same job, although not as efficiently.

According to an article in Gastroenterology, the February issue, doctors comprising a special task force are surprised that only about a third of Americans over the age of 50 have had a colonoscopy, which examines the entire inside of the colon from the rectum to the appendix.

It sounds unpleasant, but, in actuality, you are not mentally or physically aware of the test during the procedure. And the recovery time from the anesthetic is only about 20 minutes. However, even though you are cautioned not to drive a car or operate any type of heavy equipment for 24 hours, you can still function almost normally.

When you arrive at the testing center, you disrobe and a IV is started with a simple saline solution. After some period of time (less than an hour) you are rolled on the gurney into the testing room. A group of nurses prepare you. Then one of them says they are starting the anesthetic and in short order you are in a twilight state.

You have to remain somewhat conscious because the doctor may need you to change position to allow the test instrument to make the bends and turns through your colon.

It takes about 30 minutes to complete. The doctor has an excellent picture of the inside of your large intestine. In case you didnít know it, the large intestine, or colon, removes liquid from your waste. Sort of like a huge sponge, or, as I often say, a big dehumidifier.

When the test, which is recorded on a videotape, is over. You are rolled out to a recovery area in the office where and you sit on a chair, or lie down on a bed, depending entirely on how well your system deals with the anesthesia.

Then, about 20 minutes later, the doctor will come out and give you the results. The entire process takes less than two hours. And you are on your way home. Of course, someone has to drive you. But you are home in short order.

Anyone who has a close relative, father, mother, sister or brother who has ever received treatment for colon cancer should have a colonoscopy starting at age 40. If your first test is clear, then you donít have to have another for between five and seven years. It is worth it, folks.

If you are fortunate enough that no one in your family has ever had colon cancer, that you might be able to wait until you are 50 to have a colonoscopy.

According to the article in Gastroenterology, only about 37 percent of colorectal cancers are caught early, when they are easily treated. The bad news is that more than 57,000 people in the United States will die of this disease in 2003.

My father had colon cancer - twice. My brother-in-law died of the disease after a three-year battle. For some unknown reason, all of my siblings and my sisterís children have not taken this test as yet. I fail to understand why, because this test can save your life. Or it can save you from a miserable couple of years fighting it before it ends your life.

There are a whole lot of other tests which you can take first. This will usually indicate that you need a colonoscopy or not.

So, do yourself a favor. Ask your doctor about it.

If you donít have a doctor, then call The Frederick County Health Department. There are free tests available there, even a free colonoscopy if necessary. Of course, there are income limits, but still, asking the questions can save your life. And that is worth the inconvenience, and even a little discomfort - if it happens.


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