March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Early detection is the best defense against the cancer, and screenings become increasingly important as you age.
About ten years ago, doctors found three cancerous polyps in Bob Raica during his first-ever routine colonoscopy.
"My reaction was, wow, I'm glad I had it, because I didn't know, and had I not...given what they ultimately found, I was headed for some serious health issues," said Raica.
The doctors at Marquette General Hospital removed the polyps in the same colonoscopy. They caught Raica's cancer in its earliest stages. In advanced stages, colon cancer can display symptoms like rectal bleeding, unintended weight loss, a change in bowel habits, or others, according to the American Cancer Society.
Raica was not experiencing any symptoms. In the early stages, colon cancer rarely exhibits any symptoms, which is why doctors encourage regular colonoscopies for early detection.
The procedure is short and simple, and the patient is sedated. It involves a thin tube with a camera, called a colonoscope, inserted into the anus to observe the colon.
"We give them a mild sedation in an IV, and they just go to sleep for a very short time. The colonoscopy is done, and then they wake up a short time thereafter," said Dr. James Surrell, Colorectal Surgeon. Raica has been seeing Dr. Surrell for about the last six years.
Now at 61 years old, Raica has had regular colonoscopies since his first one nearly a decade ago, and each time he's been given a clean bill of health. He says his first colonoscopy helped him dodge a bullet.
"It's a very simple thing to do. The benefit to having a colonoscopy to the patient...it's a no-brainer. You can avoid some very complicated health issues," Raica said.
Colon cancer is the fourth most common kind of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death according to Dr. Surrell. Those at average risk should receive a colonoscopy once every ten years but more often if there is a family history of polyps.
Raica is adopted and did not have the benefit of knowing his family history, which may or may not contain a history of cancer. Raica, however, does have a son that will benefit from the knowledge of his father's cancer. Raica's son will begin having regular colonoscopies at 40. Raica will receive screenings every three years as a precaution, but for now he remains cancer-free.