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In an effort to impress upon others the importance of colorectal cancer screening, Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, had a pre-colonoscopy consultation Monday at Mary Lanning Healthcare.

Bever used her appointment as an opportunity to raise awareness and help educate the public.

Bever had her first colonoscopy when she was 50, which had been the recommended time to start the screenings. For people at average risk of colon cancer, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years.

Now 61, Bever was set to have her second screening in 2021.

Like many people, she found various reasons to not schedule a colonoscopy. At times, hospitals weren’t doing elective procedures. There were bits of high community transmission of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19. She couldn’t take time off work.

But with March being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, she decided to prioritize her health and catch up on her screenings.

“I’m excited about it,” she said. “This is a good time to do it. It feels really good to be back on track.”

Bever’s first step was a colonoscopy consultation with Dr. Shellie Faris, a general surgeon at Mary Lanning’s Central Nebraska General Surgery.

When comparing statistics for men and women combined, Faris said colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer. About 150,000 people in the United States died of colorectal cancer in 2020.

“We, as a medical community, screen for cancers that are common, that we have a good screening tool for and that don’t have a lot of symptoms in the beginning,” she said. “The cancers that we do screen for are breast cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer.”

As with any cancer, the earlier the cancer can be detected, the better the outcome.

With colorectal cancer, that outcome could be prevention.

“Colorectal cancer is the only cancer as a provider I can help you prevent,” Faris said.

Colorectal cancer commonly starts as a polyp, or a growth on the inside lining of the colon.

About half of people over age 50 will have a polyp, Faris said, but less than 10% will grow into anything concerning. The larger the polyp, the greater the risk of danger.

But during a colonoscopy, any discovered polyps are removed and then tested.

Faris said the act of removing the polyp can stop the cancer cells from spreading to the colon, thus preventing cancer in the patient.

With new research showing 12% of colorectal cancer being diagnosed in people younger than 50, Faris said it’s now recommended that anyone between ages 45-75 be screened every 10 years for people with average risk.

Last year, the hospital conducted more than 900 endoscopies. Faris said a colonoscopy doesn’t usually require general anesthesia, but more of a heavy sedation. Patients typically don’t remember the procedure, which takes about 15-20 minutes with about an hour of preparation time beforehand and another hour for the anesthesia to wear off.

Bever said national statistics show only about 60% of people who qualify for screening actually are getting it done. Due to the benefits of early detection, it’s crucial, she said. She asked people to talk to their physician about the testing.

“It’s so important to encourage people to do this screening,” she said.


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