Fear of colonoscopy keeps many from getting life-saving treatment

Published in the Tennessean, March, 2008

by Dr. William J. Harb, M.D.

If you want to know how to prevent cancer, keep reading. It may seem surprising, but a simple test can save your life.  I only wish it had been utilized before like it is now.  If it had, maybe colon cancer wouldn’t have affected my family like it has. And maybe if you read this, it won’t have to affect you.

My grandfather was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was 12.  I remember going over to my grandparents’ house daily as he dealt with his illness.  Unfortunately, when his cancer was discovered it had already spread to his liver, thus making it incurable.  He helped me daily with my homework.  I struggled in school.   I watched him lose weight and his appetite.  He got worse.  It was killing him; and me. I cried every night. Why me?  Why my grandfather? Here was a man who was the rock of our family, and he was brought to his knees. He finally died from colon cancer.

It didn’t have to happen to him.  It didn’t have to happen to my grandmother, either. Fortunately, her colon cancer was diagnosed at an early stage and she was cured with surgery and didn’t even need chemotherapy.  My mother’s father and brother were not as lucky.  Both died from colon cancer.

Common myths prevent many from having their colonoscopy.  The truth is colon cancer can be prevented.  And it can be prevented with an exam that takes less than an hour.  Colorectal cancer that is diagnosed early can be cured.  And most patients with colorectal cancer won’t ever need a colostomy.  Colonoscopy for the prevention of colon and rectal cancer (screening colonoscopy) is now covered by many insurance plans, including Medicare.

As a colon and rectal surgeon, I daily care for and operate on patients with colon and rectal cancer.  Almost without fail, the ones on whom I operate for colorectal cancer have never had a colonoscopy.  I see people suffer daily with a disease they don’t have to have.  I see them suffer from a disease that can be prevented.  I see the look in their eyes when they realize they could have prevented it, but didn’t because they didn’t want to have a colonoscopy. I think of their children and grandchildren who have to go through what I did with my family.  And I wonder why.

This year, 150,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. And 54,000 will die from colorectal cancer.  Will you be one of them?  Or will you take the time out of your day to have an exam that can save your life.  Ask your physician to schedule yours today and help me put an end to this awful disease.

Copyright The Tennessean March, 2008

Dr. William J. Harb is a colorectal surgeon and practices at Baptist Hospital here in Nashville

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