From a young age, Sara always suspected she was at a high risk for colon cancer. Her mom survived colon cancer three times, and both of her grandparents had the disease. In her early 30s, she had her first colonoscopy, 20 years earlier than the recommended screening schedule. An all-clear result put her on a schedule to repeat the test in five to eight years. But Sara wondered if this frequency was enough given her family history.
She made an appointment for a second opinion at the Stanford Health Care Digestive Health Center. At her first appointment, Gastroenterologist Uri Ladabaum, MD, immediately put her at ease, she said. “He said, we’re going to develop a plan for you. It’s going to be okay.”
“Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of death from cancer,” said Dr. Ladabaum, who directs Stanford’s GI Cancer Prevention Program. “But the majority of deaths from colorectal cancer are preventable. Screening is proven to decrease the risk.”
A routine colonoscopy allows doctors to both detect and remove small growths called polyps, all during one outpatient procedure. By removing polyps early, before they are left to develop into cancerous lesions, colonoscopies can prevent colon cancer from ever developing.
Because of her family history, Dr. Ladabaum recommended yearly colonoscopies, not every five to eight years. “Based on a comprehensive assessment of what her family had been through, we developed the appropriate surveillance plan for her and for other relatives who might also benefit from screening,” he said.
Sara has faithfully followed the set plan, having colonoscopies every year at Stanford, despite living in Modesto, a three-hour drive away. Her tests have all been clear until a year ago when Dr. Ladabaum found and removed a medium-sized polyp. If left to grow, the polyp would have become cancer, said Sara. “That’s why we do the preventive medicine. I feel like I’ve taken control of what I can control. I know I'm being proactive and it has empowered me to just live and enjoy my life.”
“People with no known risk factors for colon cancer may wonder, "Do I even need to think about this? I feel fine. I have no symptoms.’ The answer is "Yes," said Dr. Ladabaum. “Everyone needs to be thinking about this because there is some level of risk in the general population that is substantial enough that we think that screening can make a difference.”
The procedure is done on an outpatient basis, and requires sedation. Patients must prep the evening before by drinking a solution that helps clean out their colon, and they require a ride to and from the procedure the next day.
“If one is healthy and fit enough to have a colonoscopy and of the appropriate age to consider it, it is definitely an intervention that we would recommend,” said Dr. Ladabaum. “The procedure for most patients is no problem at all. Patients often wake up and say, ‘Is that it?’”
“Stanford makes it easy to have a colonoscopy,” said Sara. “The check in process is so easy. The nurses and staff are so kind and compassionate. Colon cancer is completely preventable, so why not go and get a colonoscopy?” Sara asked. “I can’t control if I get a polyp, but I can control if we get it out in time.”
General Endoscopy: https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/digestive-health-endoscopy-suite-redwood-city.html
Advanced Endoscopy: https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-clinics/digestive-health-endoscopy-suite.html
Dr. Uri Ladabaum: https://stanfordhealthcare.org/doctors/l/uri-ladabaum.html