Screening Saves Lives
Bryon Hock's friends don't bat an eye when he asks if they've had a screening for colon cancer. They'd be more surprised if he quit asking them.
"I tell them if I can do it, they can do it, too," he says.
Screenings, combined with annual physicals, are recommended beginning at age 50. Hock's daughter, Arian Haddix, tried unsuccessfully for several years to convince him to schedule a colonoscopy.
"It's easy to put it off," the 59-year-old Bertrand, Nebraska, farmer says. "But she was persistent."
Haddix encounters daily reminders of the value of screenings in her job as community relations coordinator at the American Cancer Society in Council Bluffs, Iowa. In March 2010, during Colon Cancer Awareness Month, she asked her stepmom, Becky, to schedule his screening. "It's part of my job," she says. "How can I advocate screening to others if I can't get my own dad to get one?"
He kept the appointment. The test revealed a couple of polyps, which were removed. "I became an outspoken advocate because of it," Hock says.
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men, and the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Deaths from colorectal cancer have been dropping for more than two decades, due to screenings. Yet only about half of people ages 50 to 75 with average risk of colon cancer are screened.
A new major study reveals that removing precancerous growths can cut the risk of dying. The 15-year study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February, followed 2,602 patients who had precancerous growths removed. Their risk of dying from colon cancer was 53% lower than expected among a similar group in the general population.
Prior to a screening, patients modify their diet and drink solutions to cleanse the bowels. Under sedation, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera is guided through the large intestine.
"It does take about two days to get ready for the test, but it's typically only once every 10 years," Haddix says.
A colonoscopy is recommended more often if polyps are removed or if there's a family history of colon cancer.
The five-year survival rate for colon cancer is 90% when it's diagnosed early. Unfortunately, only 35% of colorectal cancers are discovered at this early stage.
Think of it as preventive maintenance, Haddix says. "Dad's taking it a step further and advocating screenings for all cancers, including skin cancer," she says.
Photo: Arian Haddix (right) works for the American Cancer Society. She persuaded her dad, Bryon Hock (left), a farmer in Bertrand, Nebraska, to go in for a colonoscopy.