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Beat the Odds: Surviving colon cancer

6:11 PM, Mar 19, 2013   |    comments
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Colon polyp from virtual colonoscopy scan and conventional colonoscopy method. (AP image)

CALEDONIA, Mich. (WZZM) - When it comes to cancer screenings, a colonoscopy is probably the one most people avoid. But it can save your life.

The process isn't fun and takes a bit of recovery time, but having a colonoscopy can actually prevent colon cancer from developing.

Kristi Russo doesn't have a family history of colon cancer and she never had a colonoscopy. Her first symptom that something was wrong was a sharp, unbearable pain in her side.

When her doctor said he wanted to perform a colonoscopy, Kristi knew she had colon cancer. "He said let's do an endoscopy... And we'll do a colonoscopy too, and I said 'whoa that's it, that's what I got.' As soon as he said that word, I'm thinking, that's what it is, it's colon cancer," recalls Russo.

In March 2009 Kristi's colonoscopy confirmed she had stage three colon cancer.

"I said so, can you fix it? And they said yes. And I said am I going to die? And they said no. I just made a decision right from the beginning that I was going to beat it. And there was no way I was going to leave four boys without their mother. I started chemo and then every day I had radiation," says Russo.

When Kristi's tumor shrank, she had surgery to remove a section of her colon.

"The biggest kicker is typically finding it," says Dr. Nadab Dujovny, didn't treat Kristi but is a colorectal surgeon with Spectrum Health. He says a case like Kristi's is not uncommon. "A lot of people when they present really have no symptoms and that's a problem, that's why we recommend screening at a certain age."

If you have no family history of colon cancer you should get your first colonoscopy at age 50. If you have a history, or for African American men who are at higher risk, the first screening should be at age 45.

Dr. Dujovny says colon cancer is one of the most preventable and curable cancers. "The greatest advancement is the early detection. Say you have a polyp, typically it takes a one centimeter polyp anywhere from six to nine years to actually become a cancer. That's why if you have a normal colonoscopy, I'll see you in ten years if there is no other risk factor."

90% of colon cancer has a five year survival rate, however, the more advanced the cancer, the lower your chances of surviving.

Having a colonoscopy can give you a 98% chance of never developing colon cancer according to the American Cancer Society.

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