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Community Wellness: Colon Health Crusader Sharing the Importance of Early Detection

Sunday, March 20, 2016 10:04 AM

Beaulah Cheeks has not let retirement slow her down. She maintains a busy lifestyle and keeps close watch on her health. So when her physician detected and removed a precancerous lesion in her colon during a recent colonoscopy, Cheeks went on a mission of sorts, reminding friends and family that colonoscopy can be a lifesaver.

 Colon Cancer Prevention Patient Story

“I’ve read articles and know that many African-Americans are a little reluctant to have the screening, so it’s important to spread the word,” said Cheeks, 75, a retired human resources manager from Skokie. “Some people I talk to are right on schedule with testing. But others—even those with a family history—are not.”

In 2014, the American Cancer Society reported the incidence of colorectal cancer was 25 percent higher among African-Americans when compared to the white population. Even more concerning: Colon cancer death rates in the black community were 50 percent higher.

Cheeks’ NorthShore-affiliated Gastroenterologist Karen Sable, MD, explained that African-Americans tend to be diagnosed with colon cancer “six years younger than the general population,” which is why the American College of Gastroenterology recommends that African-Americans be screened beginning at age 45 instead of 50. 

“Colonoscopy is truly the gold standard for colon cancer detection for all patients,” noted Dr. Sable. “It’s the only screening method that helps us find and remove precancerous tissue. We don’t have to wait for cancer to form.”

The most important incentive to get a colonoscopy? Up to 90 percent of colorectal cancers are curable if caught early. That is the message Cheeks shares with members of her church and others who could be at risk.

“It’s a painless procedure, and you’re comfortable throughout,” said Cheeks. “I had great communication with my doctor about my results. It was very comforting.”

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2016 Connections magazine. For more patient stories from this issue read more in the digital issue.