PINEHURST, N.C. -- Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms. Someone could have colorectal cancer and not know it, making regular screenings for colorectal cancer critical.
Carthage resident April Nayman is doing all she can to make sure her family and friends know about screening after her own recent colorectal cancer scare and surgery.
“I’ve had two instances in my life now where delaying screenings – a mammography in one instance and a colonoscopy in another – has led to more difficulties,” Nayman said, describing how she went through breast cancer treatments more than a decade ago before her more recent brush with colorectal cancer.
“I was two years late on my colonoscopy, but I’m thankful I decided to get it when I did,” she said. Doctors discovered a “likely cancerous tumor,” leading to a follow-up appointment with Samuel Heathcote, M.D., a general surgeon and colon and rectal surgery specialist at Pinehurst Surgical Clinic.
“Dr. Heathcote saw me right away and spent more than an hour with me in our first appointment. He gave me confidence to have my surgery locally here in Pinehurst,” Nayman said.
Soon after, Heathcote and Nayman’s care team performed a robotic surgery at FirstHealth’s Moore Regional Hospital, removing a foot of her colon and a non-cancerous tumor the size of a golf ball. Heathcote said Nayman’s case was somewhat unique because they weren’t sure if the growth in her colon was cancerous. The surgery and removal allowed them to know for sure.
“Regardless, we performed the operation as if there was cancer in the polyp to be able to evaluate the associated lymph nodes as well. Removal of all the associated lymph nodes is very important with any colon surgery for cancer,” Heathcote said.
Nayman said Heathcote called her right after the surgery to inform her that they did not find cancer. She was also complimentary of the care team at Moore Regional.
“My surgery recovery was much better than I had imagined. The nurses took great care of me, and I was home one day after the procedure,” she said. “The robotic surgery was easier on my body than cutting me open. The incisions were small, and I had very little pain at the incision sites.”
With a good prognosis and continued improvement since the surgery, Nayman said she is working to make sure others know about the importance of screening.
“I had a tumor the size of a golf ball that had to be removed. It would have been smaller and easier to remove if I had known sooner,” she said. “I am a woman of strong faith, and I believe that prayer works as I do not have cancer today. But precaution is good. I now know I need to get these tests that the doctors advise us to do.”
Nayman said her message to others is simple. “I know people are busy. But it’s important to take care of yourself. Take time to get all the tests your doctor recommends. Get the colonoscopy, get a mammogram,” she said.
Heathcote echoed Nayman’s thoughts, saying early screening is key.
“What makes a colonoscopy so great for screening is that not only can we diagnosis cancers but also remove pre-cancerous polyps at the time of the procedure,” he said. “Whereas the recommendation used to be age 50, there has been a recent shift in screening guidelines and now the first colonoscopy is recommended at age 45 for an average risk person. This change is because the number of colon and rectal cancers diagnosed in younger people has been going up.”
Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States and is often well underway before symptoms appear. Symptoms, when they occur, can include blood in or on your stool, stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away or unexplained weight loss.
To help people better understand and prevent the disease, FirstHealth joins efforts around the nation during National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March. While there is no sure way to avoid colorectal cancer, FirstHealth joins the American Cancer Society in recommending these general actions to help lower risk:
- Age 45 to 75? Time to get screened. Regular colorectal cancer screening—the process of looking for cancer or pre-cancer in people who have no symptoms—is one of the most powerful ways to prevent colorectal cancer before it starts. Several types of tests are available. While screening is recommended for people starting at age 45, those with a family history of colorectal cancer or those with known inflammatory bowel diseases may consider screenings at an earlier age. People ages 76 to 85 should discuss screening with their primary care provider.
- Quit smoking. Long-term smoking is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer and many other cancers and health problems. Quitting today may help lower your risk.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men.
- Eat more plants, less red and processed meat. Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in red meats (beef, pork and lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs, sausage and lunch meats) have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk. Choosing plants over meat may help reduce your risk.
- Avoid alcohol. Avoiding alcohol can yield many health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Move more. Increasing your activity level lowers the risk of colorectal cancer.
FirstHealth Cancer Services offers a comprehensive cancer program that combines surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy with support services and integrative medicine to enhance quality of life and minimize side effects during and after cancer treatment.