Colon Cancer

By: Sarah Batista
By: Sarah Batista

March 28, 2006

It's a disease that about 150,000 people a year are diagnosed with, and nearly a third of those people will die from it. We're talking about colon cancer, and as part of Colon Cancer Awareness Month we show you the importance of early detection.

It is amazing how many people are so afraid of having a colonoscopy done, and so don't even bother. But early detection could mean the difference between life and death.

At age 53, Sallie Thompson is healthier than ever, but five years ago this nurse and mother of two opted to have a colonoscopy, a procedure used to detect colon cancer. The results were shocking.

"Actually, I was surprisingly told by Dr. Oblinger that I had colon cancer, I had one polyp that was cancer," said Thompson.

Doctors typically suggest patients have their first colonoscopy done around age 50. At the time, Thompson was only 47 and had no family history of the disease or hardly any symptoms, which typically include weight loss, bloody stools or stomach pain.

Thompson is proof that the disease can strike anyone.

"I knew it was possible that it would happen, but I never thought it would happen to me," she said.

"Just about everybody is at risk, some a little more than others with a family history, but virtually everybody," explained Dr. Oblinger.

Charlottesville Gastroenterology Associates Dr. Michael Oblinger diagnosed Thompson, also his co-worker. He says polyps are benign bumps found in the colon. Gone undetected they can lead to cancer, but if they're found and removed early enough, statistics prove the patient has nearly a 90 percent chance of survival like Thompson.

"She didn't waste any time, and got it done and was able to get her therapy," Oblinger explained.

Now cancer-free Thompson knows just how to get her patients in for testing. She tells her success story.

"If I had waited until I was 50 I wouldn't be here to talk about it today," said Thompson.

Doctors add new technology has made screening for colon cancer even easier and less painful than before. But they still remind everyone that eating healthy and working out at least 30 minutes a day can reduce your chances of getting the disease.

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