Colorectal cancer: get screened, catch it early

Colorectal cancer isn’t something that people typically like to talk about, even though it is quite common – being the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women in the U.S. – and is very treatable if found early. However, the potential discomfort of the colonoscopy screening causes some to treat it as an inconvenient or unnecessary part of their health care.The outside of Tri-County Health Care building is lit blue in recognition of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so this week, March 4-8, Tri-County Health Care is drawing attention to the importance of colorectal cancer screenings and showing support for local cancer patients by illuminating the south entrance of its Wadena campus in blue lights. Employees also dedicated a day to wearing blue and raising money for the Colon Cancer Coalition.

In addition, cities across the area, including Wadena, Verndale, Sebeka, Ottertail and New York Mills, have released mayoral statements recognizing and honoring March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.


A sneaky disease

Colorectal cancer often begins in your large intestine as a small clump of non-cancerous cells called polyps. These polyps can eventually grow into cancer over time, but sometimes you don’t even know you have them until they have grown into a more advanced cancer.

When Wadena resident Karla suffered intense stomach pain, she put off seeing her provider, thinking the symptoms would pass. They didn’t. She managed to get to ReadyCare where the providers discovered a blockage in Karla’s bowel and admitted her quickly for surgery. It was successful in removing the blockage, but it revealed a new underlying problem: colon cancer.

After months of recovering from her major surgery, Karla began chemotherapy treatment at Tri-County Health Care under the watchful eyes of oncologist Wade Swenson, M.D., and the team in the Infusion and Cancer Center.

“Dr. Swenson is very good. It’s nice that he comes here,” Karla said. “The whole team here is great.”

Karla has been on multiple types of treatment, often switching between chemo pills and chemo infusions, each with its own set of side effects. She has a long road ahead, but she tries to keep herself busy in order to get through it. “I go to work, and I have a dog and a cat. I have a garden in the summertime. You’ve got to keep pushing.”

Karla’s case may seem unique because she didn’t experience typical colon cancer symptoms – blood in her stool, unexplained weight loss, etc. – but this is common when the cancer is in the early stages, which is exactly when it’s important to find the cancer so that treatment has the best chance of being successful. That’s why regular screenings are so important.

Karla agreed, noting that the single most important thing she thinks about colon cancer is catching it fast.


What can you do to reduce your risk?

Colorectal cancer is not uncommon and does not only happen to older individuals. In fact, one in 23 Americans will be diagnosed in their lifetime, and 1 in 5 of those will be diagnosed before the age of 55. So what should you do to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer?

The American Cancer Society recommends that you start getting screened at age 45, but if you have a family history of the disease, your screenings should start even earlier.

Other ways to reduce your risk include maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and being aware of the symptoms and telling your provider if you experience them.

Tri-County Health Care offers colonoscopies, as well as a minimally invasive option called Cologuard. Talk to your provider about your potential risk factors and if you should be screened.

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