They say that it takes a lifetime to learn to fly fish. Thanks to a colonoscopy, Alicia Creighton should have a full life to sharpen her fishing skills.
The 47-year-old veterinarian, wife, mother of two and budding fly fisherwoman credits the colon exam with saving her life. That’s because the colonoscopy, her first, detected cancer in her colon. The cancerous tumor and some surrounding tissue were subsequently surgically removed, and Creighton is now completing follow-up chemotherapy treatment to keep the cancer, an adenocarcinoma, at bay.
“It probably saved my life,” Creighton said of the colonoscopy.
Her surgeon, Missouri Baptist colon and rectal specialist Lawrence G. Mendelow, MD, agrees.
“She had Stage 3 cancer,” Dr. Mendelow said. “If she had waited any longer, she would have been Stage 4 and would probably not have survived.”
A FAMILY WARNING.
Because age is a significant factor in cancers of the colon and rectum, many people do not begin periodic colon screenings until age 50. But Creighton scheduled her first after being told her mother and mother’s brother had benign colon polyps removed during their lifetimes. That family history put Creighton at greater risk for developing colon cancer.
Creighton, since she had no symptoms, was surprised to learn that a suspicious mass had been detected in her sigmoid colon; a tissue sample was taken during her colonoscopy, and sent to the lab for biopsy. Her surprise turned to shock when she was told last September that she had cancer.
SURGERY AND TREATMENT.
Creighton was referred to Dr. Mendelow for removal of the cancerous tumor and affected lymph nodes.
Three weeks after successful laparoscopic-assisted surgery, Creighton began six months of scheduled chemotherapy under the direction of Missouri Baptist oncologist Paul K. Schultz, MD.
“I feel very positive,” Creighton said. “I just feel like I am going to beat it, and I feel that Dr. Mendlow did a great job with the surgery.”
Since completion of the chemotherapy, Creighton has been closely monitored through blood tests, tissue scans, and colonoscopies — a regimen that Dr. Mendelow calls surveillance.
In the meantime, Creighton said, “I hope to get out and learn how to fly fish. I think it is something I would enjoy.”
ADVICE FOR THE REST OF US.
Although Creighton and Dr. Mendelow both credit the colonoscopy with detecting the cancer when it was still treatable, Creighton said that she should have undergone the routine screening earlier. She noted that she postponed the screening until two years after learning about her family history.
Creighton said, “Even with a family history of polyps, you don’t see an urgency. No one wants to have a colonoscopy, but the procedure itself was quick and painless, and even the prep is overstated.”
Despite the important role that colonoscopies play in colon health, the procedure gets a bad rap, prompting many people to postpone their first colonoscopy, or refuse it altogether.
“People don’t like the prep, and they are embarrassed by the prospect of someone looking up their backside,” Dr. Mendelow
said. “But they just need to get over that because the procedure gives them great peace of mind when it’s done.”
During a colonoscopy, which Dr. Mendelow calls the “gold standard” of colon screening techniques, the doctor uses a long, thin, flexible, and lighted tube to examine the colon and search for polyps, which are usually benign but which can become cancerous. If polyps are found, a tool can excise them. During the exam, which is usually performed on an outpatient basis, the patient is sedated and rarely has any recollection of the procedure upon waking.
Patient preparation involves laxatives the day before the procedure to clear the colon for the exam.
“The prep is the worst part of the exam for the patient,” Dr. Mendelow said. “But even that can be done with different options to make it more comfortable.”
Dr. Mendelow, who performs 300 to 400 colonoscopies each year, said that everything about the procedure is better than even a few years ago.
“The prep is better. The equipment has improved dramatically. The optics are tremendously improved in terms of magnification and their ability to detect even the smallest of lesions, and even the anesthetics are better so people wake quicker and are less groggy,” Dr. Mendelow said.
Lawrence Mendelow, MD, is a board-certified colon and rectal surgeon on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He received his medical degree from Duke University in Durham, No. Carolina, and completed his internship and residency at Washington University in St. Louis.