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Bobbie Home was blissfully preparing for the birth of her third child when she first noticed a hallmark sign of colorectal cancer – blood in her stool. Since she was only 35 and had no family history of colorectal cancer, her obstetrician initially thought hemorrhoids could be the problem. After giving birth, the blood became more significant and she was referred for a colonoscopy.
“I know my body and even though I wasn’t in any discomfort, I really wanted it checked out,” Bobbie, of Des Plaines, said.
NorthShore University HealthSystem Gastroenterologist Karen Sable, MD, removed a large, precancerous polyp and told Bobbie that the colonoscopy saved her from developing cancer. A colonoscopy continues to be the gold standard of defense against colorectal cancer because it can detect pre-cancerous growths (and remove them) as well as cancer, which is highly treatable if caught early.
“Without removal of this polyp, it most likely would have continued to grow and become an invasive colon cancer,” Dr. Sable explained. “It is unclear how much time that would take, but in younger patients, such lesions can grow at a faster rate.”
Under 50? Don’t Overlook Symptoms
Now, five years later, Bobbie is sharing her story to urge others not to ignore symptoms, even if you are not at risk for colorectal cancer. “I’m so glad that I didn’t just ignore it,” she said.
The incidence of colorectal cancer is rising in people under age 50, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. The rate is still considered low, but researchers say it is a “major public health concern.”
When to Get a Colonoscopy
A family history of colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) increases a person’s risk of developing this type of cancer. If your relative is diagnosed before age 60, you should undergo a colonoscopy every five years, beginning at age 40 or 10 years before the age at which that relative was diagnosed. Average-risk patients should begin colonoscopy screening at age 50. However, African Americans should begin screening at age 45 because of higher cancer incidence.
Bobbie understands that she will need ongoing follow-up colonoscopy exams throughout her life. In addition, her medical team will continue to closely follow up with her so that as new research and innovations occur in genetics and cancer prevention, she may continue to maintain good health, according to Dr. Sable.
“It’s important for Bobbie to share her story with her first-degree relatives, including children, who will need colon cancer screening at a much younger age and possibly at more frequent intervals,” Dr. Sable explained.
Know Your Body and Family History
Bobbie underwent genetic testing and discovered that she does not carry one of the known genes that predispose individuals to colon, breast or ovarian cancer. Even so, her children need to begin testing at early ages.
“Dr. Sable saved my life,” Bobbie said. “It’s very important for people to listen to their bodies and don’t ignore signs, no matter what you’re going through.”