Sadly, even movie stars can be caught off guard with a cancer diagnosis. This was true for UK actress Julie Walters, who recently went public with her stage three colorectal cancer diagnosis in 2018. After experiencing symptoms such as vomiting, indigestion and stomach pain, a CT scan revealed a cancerous mass in her intestine.
Walters — who you may recognize from popular films such as “Billy Elliot,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Harry Potter” — is now cancer-free following successful surgery and chemotherapy. But her journey brings to light an important message for all: Colorectal cancer can affect anyone, so talk to your doctor about your colorectal cancer risk and screening protocol.
“Fans can take this as an inspiring message to get colorectal cancer screenings if they have not already,” says general surgeon Thushy Siva, MD.
Colorectal Cancer in the U.S.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S., excluding skin cancers. The disease affects men slightly more than women, and African Americans are at a higher risk, too.
The “gold standard” screening tool for colorectal cancer is the colonoscopy. The procedure can not only detect colon cancer; it can find and remove precancerous polyps to prevent colorectal cancer from even forming in the first place.
“In many cases, colorectal cancer can be prevented and detected early with routine colonoscopies as recommended by your doctor,” says general surgeon Thushy Siva, MD.
But according to the CDC, nearly one in three people are not up to date with colorectal cancer screenings.
According to general surgeon Thushy Siva, MD, “In addition to healthy lifestyle behaviors, getting a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50 or earlier depending on your risk factors — is the best thing you can do to prevent colon cancer.”
But what if the test reveals cancer is already present? What happens next?
Being diagnosed with colon cancer can feel frightening, but with routine colonoscopies, the hope is that any cancer that’s detected is caught in its early, most treatable stages.
That’s one reason why our digestive experts are so passionate about advocating for colorectal cancer screenings through routine colonoscopies.
How Colorectal Cancer Screening Works
Colorectal cancer screening isn’t just for people who have symptoms. It’s just as important for people who feel healthy, too.
In general, it’s recommended to get your first colonoscopy upon turning age 45. Some people at higher risk — including those with some digestive disorders or a family history of colon cancer — might be recommended to test even earlier.
The power of a colonoscopy is twofold: It can spot cancer early and it can even prevent cancer entirely. This is because polyps turn into colon cancer slowly, usually over years. During a colonoscopy, which involves the use of a narrow flexible tube to inspect the colon and intestines, the doctor can often remove these polyps.
Why You Shouldn’t Fear Your Colonoscopy
Some people are afraid of getting a colonoscopy, but the experience has improved greatly in recent years. The preparation typically involves a laxative the day before the procedure with a sports beverage to wash it down and keep the body’s electrolytes in balance.
The procedure itself happens under sedation; most patients aren’t aware it’s even happening. Though a colonoscopy by itself can’t diagnose colon cancer — a lab report is needed for that — it can provide strong immediate evidence.
Colon Cancer Treatment
Like Walters, surgery to remove the tumor is almost always the most important treatment.
If lab analysis of the tumor suggests some cancer cells may have spread, surgery may be followed with chemotherapy. Even if the cancer has been successfully treated, patients are monitored very closely for at least five years.
The good news is that five-year survival rates for early stage colorectal cancers are up to 90%.
Schedule Your Screening Today
“Colorectal cancer can affect anyone, so talk to your doctor about your screenings,” says general surgeon Thushy Siva, MD. Early detection is key to protecting you from colorectal cancer and helping you stay healthy for years to come. Learn more about Digestive Care and colorectal cancer screenings available at AdventHealth Dade City and AdventHealth Zephyrhills.