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Stop colon cancer in its tracks by getting checked

Somerset Elementary School teacher Nancy Andersen recently had a cancerous mass on her colon removed after scheduling a colonoscopy. Submitted photo

"The best way to deal with colon cancer is not to get it."

That's the view of Westfields Hospital & Clinic surgeon Michael Schneider, who is urging people to set aside fear of the colonoscopy this Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Colon cancer is highly treatable if discovered early. In fact, small polyps in a person's colon can turn cancerous over a period of 10 to 15 years — which means they can be detected and removed during a colonoscopy before they have the chance to turn into cancer.

And the colonoscopy of today is a far cry from that of the past, Schneider said.

"We now use carbon dioxide gas to inflate the colon. It's rapidly absorbed and eliminated so there's no lingering, gassy feeling," he said. "Advances in engineering, fiber optics and instrument technology have also made the procedure shorter and more comfortable."

The American Cancer Society recommends people to get their first colonoscopy at age 50, if they're at average risk of developing colon cancer.

Nancy Andersen, a Somerset Elementary School teacher of 24 years, had not yet reached that milestone birthday when she started to feel things were just not right.

In November 2017, she went to see Dr. Claire Philippe, a family medicine doctor at Westfields Hospital & Clinic. Andersen learned she'd need a colonoscopy. The procedure was performed promptly by Dr. Anthony Hecht, as gastroenterologist at Westfields Hospital & Clinic. The procedure confirmed Andersen had a large, cancerous mass on her colon.

Less than a week later, Andersen had surgery to remove the mass. Before she even left Westfields, five days later, she got the great news that the surgery had been completely successful; she was cancer-free.

"It feels good to wake up and feel good again," Andersen said. "Going through this, I think it makes you celebrate life and look at the positive. It's a new perspective if you have a bad day."

Westfields Hospital & Clinic has joined Hudson Hospital & Clinic and Amery Hospital & Clinic in lighting up blue for the month of March to get people thinking about colon health and scheduling their preventative colonoscopy screening.

Andersen now talks with colleagues, friends and family about the importance of listening to your body and going for regular screenings.

"Colonoscopy saves lives and has made the rate of colon cancer incidence decrease," Schneider said.