Resident takes proactive response to cancer screening
By Daniel Arens
Many times, for many people, taking action to deal with medical issues happens only once medical issues surface. However, sometimes reactive responses come too late to fix problems that have emerged, or at best contain health threats.
Patrick Donovan, attorney and Hazen resident, determined to look into receiving a colonoscopy, a screening to determine whether or not an individual has colorectal cancer. Although there had been no issue for him in the past, Donovan still decided to be proactive in having the procedure done. And it turned out a good thing he had.
Dr. Mike Schmit, staff surgeon at Sakakawea Medical Center (SMC), discovered a polyp while performing the examination. The polyp was not cancerous when it was discovered, and Schmit was able to remove the growth before it developed further.
Although overall cure for cancer is an ongoing process, colorectal (or colon) cancer is one of only a few kinds of cancer that is preventable. Colon cancer is the overgrowth of cells that line the colon and rectum. Typically, the process of colon cancer starts with a benign tumor, or polyp, which over time can become cancerous.
There are several factors that can influence the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. According to Schmit, the cancer occurs more often in people over 50 years of age, although he noted that on occasion he has seen the cancer arise in younger individuals. There is also an increased risk for developing the cancer in those who have a family history with it.
Donovan, who is more than 50 years old, noted that his father had contracted colorectal cancer, and felt it would be wise to set up an appointment to get himself checked.
“Pat was smart enough to say, ‘I have to get this done,’” Schmit said.
Donovan called the hospital to look into what it would take to have a colonoscopy done. They recommended that he go through his primary care provider, who arranged for Donovan to meet with Schmit to perform the colonoscopy.
There are different kinds of screenings that can be done to detect polyps along the colon. The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) tests blood to determine if there is any hidden buildup of blood. The colonoscopy itself is a relatively new procedure. Although there has been a push for virtual colonoscopies to be done, Schmit noted that, if these virtual tests find anything, the regular colonoscopy will be needed anyway.
Symptoms of possible colon cancer include bleeding of any sort, as well as bloating, pain, and unexplained weight loss. Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, following a nutritious diet, and physical exercise can help reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Schmit said that perforations, or holes in the colon, are the most significant risk of polyp removal operations, although he noted perforations are rare, and that surgeons are very careful when undergoing these kinds of surgeries.
Although colonoscopies that go wrong can generate stronger coverage, Schmit again stressed the great rarity with which these problems occur. He noted that colonoscopy services are offered in Hazen, and that area residents can speak with their providers at Coal Country Community Health Center (CCCHC) and SMC to set up appointments. He highlighted examples like Donovan, who took the initiative to work a screening into his schedule, and as a result was able to have the polyp removed before it could become cancerous.