Embracing Early Prevention: Kaiser Permanente Members Share Stories of Survival for Colon Cancer Awareness Month

07 Mar, 2013, 11:33 ET from Kaiser Permanente

OAKLAND, Calif., March 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- With 150,000 new cases diagnosed every year, colon cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. But with proper screening, it is also one of the most preventable. This month, Kaiser Permanente recognizes colon cancer awareness by sharing stories of those who have dealt with the disease, and the care teams who saved them.

March's stories include:

Before embarking on a new exercise program, Mattie Shaw [http://bit.ly/XQu27U] of Long Beach, Calif., wanted to ensure she was in good health.  She went to see her doctor, Vanessa Gavin-Headen, MD, a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Long Beach Medical Offices.  At a prior appointment, Dr. Gavin-Headen had ordered a colonoscopy for Mattie, but Mattie hadn't followed up. "It's important for everyone to have at least one colonoscopy in their life...to see if anything [is] there that shouldn't be there," said Dr. Gavin-Headen.

Dr. Gavin-Headen's reminder prompted Mattie to undergo the procedure. When the results came back, Mattie was surprised to learn that she had colon cancer. "I didn't want to take the test, but I did anyway and I'm glad I did," Mattie said. Because her cancer was detected at an early and treatable stage, she was able to undergo a successful surgery.

Today, Mattie is cancer free. A member of Kaiser Permanente for more than 30 years, she now tells everyone she knows about the importance of getting a colonoscopy at 50. "You need to go get it done right away," she said. "We want you to be here, be my friend later, so I stay on 'em about it."

Len Laviolette [http://bit.ly/1690YNk] is a land surveyor from San Diego. After finding himself unusually winded at work, he went to see his Kaiser Permanente doctor, who ordered precautionary blood work. That night, he was called back to the facility for an emergency colonoscopy.

The results showed the worst: Len had colon cancer.

Faced with a single option for survival, Len opted to undergo treatment. But when he learned the procedure would consist of both surgery and chemotherapy, Len felt scared.

But after meeting with Amilcar Exume, MD, a surgeon at Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center, Len felt more at ease with his diagnosis. "When [Dr. Exume] sat and talked to me, right then I knew I was going to be okay; I truly knew in my heart," Len recalled.

During surgery to remove the cancerous mass in his colon, Dr. Exume also removed 23 of Len's lymph nodes. When they, too, proved to be cancerous, Len qualified for a chemotherapy clinical trial. Today, Len remains cancer-free.

In 2012, Jim Tate [http://bit.ly/W5Ozpq] received a colorectal cancer screening test in the mail from Kaiser Permanente. Though he wasn't due for a colonoscopy for a few more years, he erred on the side of caution, completed it immediately and sent it back via mail to Kaiser Permanente.

The screening saved his life. When the test indicated a possible problem, Kaiser Permanente ordered Jim a colonoscopy. During the procedure, doctors found and removed numerous pre-cancerous polyps that, if left unattended, would have turned cancerous.  Had Jim waited a few years to get a colonoscopy as he initially planned, he may have had to face a serious cancer diagnosis.

After nearly a year of tests and successful surgeries, Jim is cancer free. He's thankful for Kaiser Permanente's preventative approach. "If it hadn't been for the test in the mail, I might have been dead."

Awareness saves lives

Joanne Schottinger [http://bit.ly/12uuvSC], MD, is a medical oncologist at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, Calif. She knows both how prevalent and preventable colon cancer can be.

She stresses the importance of screening for the disease. "About one in 20 [Americans] will be diagnosed with colon cancer," she said. And while the statistic is ominous, colon cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. "Polyps and early, pre-malignant growths can be taken out and removed at the time of screening so that you never actually develop cancer."

The recommended age to begin screening for colon cancer is 50. But those with a family history of colon cancer or who have other at-risk factors for the disease should take precautions by screening earlier.

"About two-thirds of people who are diagnosed with colon cancer do survive," Dr. Schottinger says. "But if you catch it early—in a Stage 0 or 1—that number shoots up to over 90 percent of people will survive and do well."

Launched in July 2011, Care Stories is a collection of first-person video narratives from Kaiser Permanente members talking about their own care in their own words, unscripted and uncompensated.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 9 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/newscenter.

CONTACT: Farra Levin, +1-510-267-7364, farra.r.levin@kp.org

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