Until Leslie McClendon had medical tests before knee surgery, the 57-year-old thought he was “the boss of himself”– including how much attention he paid to his health. Then a colonoscopy showed he had rectal cancer.
“I didn’t have any symptoms, so I didn’t think anything was wrong,” says Leslie. “It’s easy to think you don’t need to worry about your health until you realize you could’ve died without even knowing why.”
Why is early detection important?
Even though colon and rectal cancers are the second leading cause of deaths in Louisiana and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., more than 90 percent of cases can be cured when caught in the early stages. Thanks to preventive screenings, more than 1 million Americans are alive today because their colon and rectal cancers were found early and treated.
Colon and rectal surgeon Dr. Kelly Finan is chair of the Cancer Center’s Rectal Multidisciplinary Care Team that includes surgeons, pathologists, radiologists and medical and radiation oncologists and other specialists. These experts collaborate to provide every rectal cancer patient at the Cancer Center with an individualized treatment plan. The team is working toward accreditation from The National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer (NAPRC), an honor that only two hospitals in the U.S. currently hold.
According to Finan, Leslie is not alone in the tendency to avoid screenings.
“Unfortunately, only about 65% of people who should have colonoscopies actually get them,” Dr. Finan says. “It’s so important to start treating cancer as early as possible. Thankfully, we found Leslie’s cancer in an early stage and removed it before it became deadly. Not only can screenings improve the type of treatment a patient needs, they can also increase the chance of survival. Getting screened literally saves lives.”
When should I get screened?
Because of a recent study showing that people born after 1990 have four times the risk of rectal cancer, the American Cancer Society has lowered the recommended age for colonoscopies from 50 to 45. Be sure to check with your insurance company to see if they cover preventive colonoscopies for people younger than 50. If you are younger than 45 and have a family history of cancer, talk to your doctor about when you should be screened.
Advice from a survivor
“Just get the screening,” Leslie encourages. “I survived cancer and am healthier than ever because they caught it early. I can tell you from experience that it’s worth it to put your pride behind you in order to take care of yourself.”
Learn more about rectal cancer.