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Colon cancer survivor urges family, friends to get screened
People over 50 have an increased risk
0311colon
Geraldine Wells, 70, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008. Wells immediately had surgery and is living cancer-free today. Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Get screened

Learn more about screening and treatment options for colorectal cancer

When: 6-7:30 p.m. March 21
Where: Hall County Library Spout Springs Branch, Flowery Branch
When: 6-7:30 p.m. March 27
Where: Northeast Georgia Medical Center Walters Auditorium, Gainesville
Cost: Free
Contact: 770-219-3840, public.relations@nghs.com

 

Geraldine Wells knows she is one of the lucky ones.

Wells was diagnosed with colon cancer, what she calls "the silent killer," in 2008. She had no symptoms, no pain, no reason to suspect that something might be wrong.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2011, 141,210 people were diagnosed with colon cancer, and nearly one-third of them will die from the disease.

Wells' only clue came from eating a salad that upset her stomach. The next day, she went to the doctor, who sent her to get a colonoscopy. The next Monday, she got a call from her doctor telling her the news.

"After that I asked (the doctor), I said ‘Can we take care of it?' and he said ‘ASAP!'" Wells said.

That Friday, she went in for surgery.

"My thing was I wanted to go ahead and get it over with. I didn't have any fear," Wells said. "That's what I think you have to do is don't worry about it, just do whatever has to be done."

Wells didn't require any further treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, after her surgery.

Dr. Chad Copper, general surgeon with The Longstreet Clinic, performed Wells' surgery. He said doctors can do a great job of treating colon cancer if it is caught in time.

"Each case is unique, but in general, if the cancer hasn't spread to the lymph nodes, our cure rates for surgery alone are very high," Copper said.

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. It is also the third most deadly, though it is easily and commonly treated. Many of those deaths could be prevented with proper screening and early detection.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Medical professionals hope the focus will start a dialogue between patients and their doctors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided by proper screening.

The American Cancer Society recommends people older than 50 get a colonoscopy every 10 years. If the patient has a family history of colon cancer, the society recommends they be tested 10 years earlier than the age of their relative when diagnosed.

"The other thing that we're trying to stress is that the new guidelines say that African-Americans should be screened at age 45 because they have an increased risk of developing colon cancer," Copper said.

Wells, like many, was at an increased risk: She was older than 50, African-American and had a family history of the disease.

But she said she didn't know she should have a colonoscopy; it just wasn't ever brought up.

"I feel like that should be part of a physical. Because in the past, as far as physicals I've had in the past, they never mentioned getting a colonoscopy," Wells said.

A colonoscopy allows the doctor to visually inspect the inside of the colon and check for abnormal growths, or polyps. If any are found, they can be removed before they become cancerous.

Copper said it's a relatively simple procedure that his office performs regularly. The patient is sedated, so there isn't any discomfort, making a colonoscopy very different from those in years past.

"It's a common test but it's one that a very small percent of 50-year-olds have had," Copper said.

Many people don't get a colonoscopy until they notice symptoms. Some symptoms that could signal a problem include rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, weight loss or blood in the stool.

Wells has been cancer free since her operation and the experience has made her encourage her friends and family to get screened.

She said she thinks about what might have happened if she didn't take action after noticing those symptoms. She might not have met her 2-year-old grandchild. She might not be able to spend time with her 11-year-old grandchild or her sons.

She said she knows how fortunate she is.

"I know people who had that same cancer when I had it and they are no longer here. So I feel blessed," Wells said.

 

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