Doctors, patients encourage screenings during Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Colon cancer fourth most common, second most deadly cancer in country

Joe Besl is very glad he didn’t miss his first colonoscopy at the recommended age of 50.

“If I would’ve waited until 51, I probably would have had colon cancer,” he said.

Doctors found and removed precancerous polyps at his screening. Besl, a registered nurse in Gundersen Health’s gastroenterology department, said getting tested was for more than just himself, however.

“Me getting colon cancer is secondary to me versus how important it is for us to protect our kids,” said Besl. “We really don’t do these for us. We do them for our children and our grandchildren to let them know if they’re at a high risk.”

According to Besl, he never gave getting colon cancer much thought. But he hopes Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March will bring the disease to the front of people’s minds.

“If you’re waiting for symptoms, you’re waiting too long,” said Dr. Steven C. Schlack-Haerer, gastroenterologist at Gundersen Health. “Colon cancer is probably one of our most preventable cancers of all, provided people get appropriate screening.”

Doctors recommend people come in even earlier than 50 if the disease runs in their family or they’re experiencing symptoms, especially now that a new report shows one out of seven people diagnosed are under 50.

“I think anybody in that 40 to 50 range, any symptoms at all, abdominal pain, change in bowel pattern, blood in the stool, really have a low threshold for being evaluated,” said Schlack-Haerer.

Doctors say there’s no reason to be worried about coming in for a colonoscopy. Schlack-Haerer said not only is there a lot of misinformation out there, but the procedure has changed over the years, and patients are usually sedated.

“The vast majority of people after they’ve had a colonoscopy will say, ‘Boy, I don’t know what I was worried about. This really was not a bad test,'” said Schlack-Haerer.

Besl will continue to go in for his screenings.

“Who knows? I could’ve been living with a bag right now,” said Besl. “But again, I was smart. I was smart.”