Earlier screenings recommended to catch colon cancer

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Julie McLaughlin knows how devastating colon cancer can be. The Topeka woman lost her father to the disease.

"It was awful," she says. "It was excruciatingly painful for him, and we watched him over the course of two years get sicker."

With her family history, the American Cancer Society recommends Julie and her siblings start screening at age 40. Julie had her first colonoscopy at age 43.

"They found a polyp," she says, recalling show she actually put off her screening for a while, despite knowing the risks.

Dr. Brent Roeder of Cotton O'Neil Digestive Health says colon cancer screenings are a way to prevent cancer.

"Our goal is to find a problem before it ever becomes cancer," he said. "We're looking for polyps, which are growths (that may become cancer). Found on colonoscopy at an early stage, those are easily handled."

The American Cancer Society had recommended people at average risk begin screening at age 50. But recent studies revealed information that led to an update earlier this year, moving the age to 45.

"We're seeing seeing cancers younger and younger, at a rate disproportionate to older people," Dr. Roeder said.

Julie's polyp turned out to be benign, although the process did lead doctors to discover a tumor in her abdomen. It, too, was in its early stages and required no further treatment.

She believes the earlier screenings will save lives.

"Anything you can do to safeguard your health and protect you and your family from going through what my family went through - it's very important," she said.

Dr. Roeder did caution that insurance may not yet cover colonoscopies for average risk people in the younger age range. He said many companies wait for medical professional groups to adopt the Cancer Society recommendation before changing their policies. He expects that will happen within the next year.