Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, with over 3500 new cases and 1300 deaths projected by the American Cancer Society in Virginia during 2019. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and CACV is pleased to once again support Virginia’s recognition of CRC Awareness Month to emphasize the importance of screening, and to reduce the burdens of CRC on patients and survivors in Virginia.
This year we are even more pleased to support and recognize CRC Awareness Month because one of our board members, Lee Jones, is a 15-year survivor of stage IV colon cancer that had spread to his liver. If you ever think you’re too healthy or too busy not to get a colonoscopy, we urge you to think again. Lee had no family history of cancer, had not eaten red meat for 30 years, exercised regularly, and never smoked. He was otherwise healthy and had no symptoms. And as a senior executive with the federal government and father of 2 teenage boys, he thought he was too busy to get a colonoscopy—and deal with the annoying prep. However, in 2004 at age 55, never having had a colonoscopy, a totally unrelated CT scan revealed that Lee had colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver. Despite many people’s fears or concerns, a colonoscopy is relatively quick and painless. What often makes people hesitate is that you do need to devote one afternoon and evening for the prep, which involves drinking a liquid that will help clear out your colon. You need to stay near a bathroom, but otherwise you’ll feel normal. Then you’ll need to take it easy the next day to recover from the light sedation. No matter how busy you are, and how unpleasant you think this process will be, Lee can assure you that being treated for advanced CRC is much, much, worse.
During the first year after his diagnosis he had to undergo 12 rounds of chemotherapy, plus colon surgery. Then, after a year in remission, the cancer returned and he had to have 6 more rounds of chemotherapy and half his liver removed. Against the odds, this eliminated the last remnants of CRC in his body, but he required several months of recuperation from a life-threatening infection caused by the liver surgery. Lee was unusually lucky. At that time only 7% of stage IV patients lived 5 years (the survival numbers are somewhat better now, but the odds are still very long). After 5 years of follow-up testing he has had no further evidence of disease. Since retiring from his executive career, Lee has been active in cancer research advocacy with the hope that one day all cancer patients will have the same positive outcome he has experienced.
The U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommends that individuals at average risk for colorectal cancer should begin screening at age 50, and the American Cancer Society recommends screening beginning at age 45. Several screening options are available including tests that can be completed at home. Talk with your doctor about which test is right for you.