LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Colorectal cancer is on the rise in younger adults and its time you start asking yourself when you should have a colonoscopy. Whether you’re 35 or 75, it’s an important conversation to have with your doctor – once concerns about the coronavirus have calmed down.
One Louisville man is a walking billboard for the checkup after putting his colonoscopy off for years.
“I’ve always been very healthy. I’m not very good about going to the doctor. Had a physical at 40 and haven’t been sick in 20 years,” Jim Holtgrave said.
For Holtgrave, that kind of thinking could have cost him his life, had his wife not switched to a doctor who insisted both get a colonoscopy.
“The prep wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be,” he said.
He was 57 at the time.
“It really was checking a box, but it didn’t turn out to be that,” Holtgrave said.
He knew almost immediately something was wrong.
“They diagnosed me with rectal cancer. That’s a pretty rude awakening. You think you’re checking a box to thinking about chemo and radiation, new normals, things you think about when you have cancer,” he said.
Holtgrave’s case is one of 145,000 new colorectal cases diagnosed every year. It’s likely 53,000 of those patients will lose their life trying to fight it.
“Colorectal cancer tends to be more silent, in the background,” Dr. Michael Driscoll, the director for the GI Malignancy Program at Norton Cancer Institute said.
Dr. Driscoll says colorectal cancer is up to 90 percent preventable with colonoscopies. It’s recommended you start getting them at 50 years old. Some argue it should begin at 45. But your family history could determine if you need to start sooner. If an immediate relative is diagnosed before they turn 60, you should get screened 10 years earlier than the age they were diagnosed.
“So, let’s say your mom gets it at 52. You get screened at 42,” Dr. Driscoll said.
Thanks to early diagnoses there are now more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States. Although the overall death rate has continued to drop, deaths among people younger than 55 have increased by about 20 percent since 2007.
“One of three people of the appropriate age are getting screening. Not as good as we should be.,” Dr. Driscoll said.
For Holtgrave, he had two options. He risked more with surgery, so he chose to undergo chemo and radiation, and it worked.
“Today, I’m about a year and a half out, and all the tests have come back clean,” he said.
It’s a reason to celebrate and even more reason to spread the word wherever he goes.
“Do the test,” he said. “I am a billboard for everybody I see, have you had your colonoscopy?”
He knows it would’ve been a lot easier on him and his family if he’d done it sooner.
“I don’t think you can put into words what that feeling is,” he said. “I knew that I had great friends and family…that’s what chokes me up every time, just how great everybody was.”
Holtgrave was lucky. He hadn’t experienced any signs before his diagnosis, and many times, the signs come after the cancer has spread.
Signs and Symptoms of colorectal cancer (According to the American Cancer Society)
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
- Rectal bleeding
- Dark stools, or blood in the stool
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Norton Healthcare screenings: From weekend colonoscopies to fecal immunochemical tests (FIT) and other preventive strategies to surgery and immunotherapy, they can tailor a treatment plan just for you.
(Editor’s Note: Right now, Norton is not conducting in-house cancer screenings to focus on the outbreak of COVID-19. Check Norton’s website and social media channels for updates to their policies. If you have cancer and have additional concerns about the coronavirus, the National Cancer Institute has recommendations and guidelines on its website.)