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    Protect Yourself From Colon Cancer:
    Screening Saves The Life Of San Francisco Mother

    Nurse Navigator Suzanne Much, R.N., helps patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer (at Sutter Health CPMC) before, during, and after surgery.
    March marks Colorectal Cancer Month, which may not seem worth celebrating until you consider that reliable screening methods and surgical techniques have made colorectal cancer one of the most preventable cancers. Now, two-thirds of individuals over age 50 have had a colorectal screening, which is the best way to prevent deadly late-stage cancer. Despite this progress, millions still do not get screened for colorectal cancer and it remains the second-deadliest cancer for both men and women.

    “With more regular screening, earlier diagnosis and removal of precancerous polyps, the death rate for colorectal cancer has been decreasing about 2 percent per year,” says Michael Abel, M.D., a colorectal surgeon and medical director of the Colorectal Cancer Center of Excellence at Sutter Health’s CPMC. “Patients are better informed and are more willing to undergo screening examinations,” he explains.

    Recognizing the Warning Signs
    Lori Cadigan considers herself one of the lucky ones who fall into those improving statistics. The 47-year-old San Francisco police officer and mother of two was healthy, fit and active three years ago when she first saw her doctor about persistent hemorrhoids and occasional blood in her stool. After nine months of treatment without progress, she asked her doctor if she could get a colonoscopy, a test used to check the inside of the entire colon and rectum.

    Used to detect colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy uses a thing, flexible lighted tube inserted into the colon. The doctor moves the tube to look for polyps – small growths that over time can become cancer. © 2014. Nucleus MedicalMedia. All rights reserved.
    “I don’t know what made me ask for that test, because I didn’t have any of the typical risk factors. I was under 50 and had no family history of colorectal cancer. I wasn’t overweight. And I don’t smoke or drink,” she says. “But nothing else seemed to be working. And my colleague’s wife had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer, so maybe that was on my mind.”

    In a colonoscopy, the physician inserts a thin, flexible, lighted tube into the colon to look for polyps, which are small growths that over time can become cancer. The colonoscopy is one of three screening tests used to detect colorectal cancer. The others are the fecal occult blood test, which uses a stool sample; and sigmoidoscopy, in which the doctor uses a lighted tube internally to examine the rectum and half of the colon.

    “All three are very reliable, but many patients choose colonoscopy because it’s more complete, more accurate and you only do it every 10 years, typically starting at age 50 unless you have a family history of colorectal cancer,” explains Robert Faust, M.D., a gastroenterologist with Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation in Santa Rosa.

    Colonoscopy Uncovers Cancer
    For Lori, the test proved fortuitous. Her colonoscopy showed a polyp in her colon, and a biopsy confirmed that Lori had colon cancer. “I was thinking colitis maybe, but not cancer!” says Lori, who felt blindsided by the news. Yet when she met with Dr. Abel to discuss surgery, her panic subsided a bit. “Dr. Abel took a lot of time to discuss the procedure in depth and called me personally to answer questions, so I felt like I was in good hands,” she says. In the meantime, the staff at the Colorectal Cancer Center of Excellence handled every detail of her surgery preparation.

    “There was no effort on my part at all. Once you’re told you have cancer, you can’t think, you can’t function. Everything is a blur, and having a good support group and medical staff to tell you what’s next is great,” she says.

    Nurse Navigator Provides Caring Support
    The Colorectal Cancer Center of Excellence was founded four years ago to provide comprehensive and results-focused care to patients like Lori. The center offers patients unlimited access to a Colorectal Cancer Nurse Navigator, who helps before and after surgery to schedule appointments, make referrals, and navigate any hurdles patients may face.

    The center also focuses heavily on results-oriented care, with an emphasis on quality improvement. A Tumor Board meets monthly to discuss each patient’s care and determine the best course of action. Quality assessments are conducted quarterly, with findings reported to the Quality Improvement committee so that appropriate changes can be made. “Because of this, our recovery time is quick and patient outcomes are excellent,” says Dr. Abel.

    Surgery Proves Life-Saving
    Lori’s surgery was done laparoscopically, using only small incisions in the abdomen. Dr. Abel removed the tumor and six inches on either side of the colon, then reconnected the two sides. The entire procedure took two and a half hours.

    “When I woke from surgery, I felt sore, like someone punched me in the gut, but was well enough to stand and walk that same day,” says Lori. The rest of her recovery went swiftly. She began eating soft foods the following day, and went home four days after surgery. Six weeks after her colon surgery, she was back at work.

    Today, Lori undergoes regular blood work and screenings, but otherwise feels back to normal – though with a new perspective on life and health. “If I didn’t get that colonoscopy, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” she says. “Every day I wake up and I’m so thankful. For the amount of time it takes to do a colonoscopy—30 minutes in and out—it’s so worth it.”

    Take Action:
    Ask your primary care doctor for more information or for a referral to get screened for colorectal cancer. To find a primary doctor, call 1-888-637-2762.