Early screening best defense against colorectal cancer

June 18, 2007
Jimmy Hollingsworth is a self-described “get-up-and-go” kind of guy. Friends, family and the outdoors have occupied most of his 57 years, and except for the occasional cold or sprained ankle, he has lived a life free of illness. That all changed last January, however, when doctors at New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Zimmer Cancer Center diagnosed him with colorectal cancer, or cancer of the lower large intestine. “It was a complete shock to me,” Hollingsworth said. “One day you’re living a perfectly healthy life, and the next you find out you have cancer.” Making his diagnosis even more difficult to bear was what he learned next – that one’s chances of developing colorectal cancer, the third most common form of cancer in the United States, can be greatly reduced through regular screenings. “By nature, I’m a procrastinator,” said Hollingsworth, who prior to his diagnosis had never been screened. “You see people on the news undergoing screenings, but you never really think about it until something like this slaps you in the face. I can only think how things might have turned out different if I hadn’t delayed screening.” Caused by small clumps of cells, or polyps, attached to the wall of the lower large intestine that over time can become cancerous, colorectal cancer affects equal numbers of men and women. Early detection through a variety of methods – including colonoscopy, which is generally considered the procedure of choice for colon cancer screening – can result in the removal of these polyps before they become malignant. For many men and women, however, resistance to early screening comes down to the perceived discomfort, fear and embarrassment around colonoscopy itself, a procedure during which a thin, flexible tube equipped with a mini fiber optic camera is inserted rectally so that the entire colon and rectum can be viewed. Patients are generally mildly sedated prior to the procedure. “New treatments for colon cancer have made it possible to help many patients, even some with locally advanced disease,” said Peter Ungaro, MD, an oncologist at NHRMC’s Zimmer Cancer Center who helped treat Hollingsworth. “However, prevention is even more important than treatment. Using a colonoscope to identify and remove polyps can prevent a sequence of events that is often uncomfortable and sometimes unsuccessful.” “I’d always had some apprehension about having a colonoscopy,” Hollingsworth said. “But to tell you the truth, the procedure was all but done before I knew what it was they were doing. Having a colonoscopy saved my life.” Since being diagnosed, Hollingsworth has undergone extensive chemotherapy, radiation and surgery under the supervision of Zimmer Cancer Center physicians and staff. His treatment continues today. “I can’t say enough about the doctors and staff who have helped me through this,” he said. “Wilmington is so fortunate to have a place like the Zimmer Cancer Center. And I am so thankful to be on the survivor side of this devastating cancer.” Still, Hollingsworth’s message is clear to men and women 50 or older, the recommended age for screening through colonoscopy and other forms of screening. “Go on and get screened. It’s definitely worth your time, and it may well save your life.”For more information on physicians who perform colonoscopies, please call VitaLine at 815.5188.