Health Team

Screening is key for treating colon cancer

Posted March 22, 2012 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated March 22, 2012 7:49 p.m. EDT

— Cancer of the colon or rectum is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths, but it's also one of the most preventable with recommended screening for those considered at risk. 

When diagnosed, early treatment can greatly increase the chances for survival.

Last year, 42-year-old Stephanie Molesky saw doctors in Charlotte about different symptoms – like stomach aches. Doctors thought Molesky was lactose intolerant. 

But after other symptoms – bloating and rectal bleeding – continued to show up, Molesky's doctors recommended a colonoscopy. She had rectal cancer. 

A combination CT-Pet Scan soon revealed that the cancer had spread. 

"I'm a young mom, two little kids and, you know, I was scared to death," Molesky said. 

Turns out, the colon cancer screening saved Molesky's life. 

Duke University Hospital's multidisciplinary approach, which streamlined scheduling, planning, surgery and treatment produced great results for Molesky. Instead of separating Molesky's surgeries, Duke University Hospital GI and colorectal surgeon Christopher Mantyh combined them to allow her to get chemotherapy treatment sooner. 

"The problem is delaying the chemotherapy, which is really important here," Mantyh said. 

Molesky, who is done with treatment and only has some reversal surgery left, will have to monitor her health closely.

Doctors recommend screening for the average person beginning at age 50. That involved getting a colonoscopy to look for possible precancerous polyps which can be removed or to find tumors at an early stage. 

For people with a family history of colon cancer, doctors recommend screening before age 50. People with symptoms like diarrhea, constipation that lasts a couple of weeks, bright red or dark blood in the stool, abdominal pain or discomfort or constant fatigue are also warning signs that should be checked by a physician.