KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colon Cancer screening is one of those topics that’s just not something people want to discuss, let alone schedule.

Local colon cancer awareness advocate Michael Holtz proposed doing the story to me in hopes of spreading awareness.

Hooked up to an IV and just minutes away from getting my first colonoscopy, Tejal Mistry, M.D. with Gastrointestinal Associates explained the steps of the procedure.

“Typically, they’ll take about 20 minutes, you know from start to end but if there are more complex polyps that need to be taken out, those may take a little bit longer,” Mistry said.

Once checked in, I was given oxygen. The colonoscopy is done under full anesthesia so that patients don’t feel any discomfort during the process.

“So, the average population should start at 45 years old. That is every single person,” Mistry said. “Now, if you do have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors such as inflammatory bowel disease or other things, it may be earlier but you can ask your doctor and know when the right time is for you. But in general, the average population is 45.”

Going into this screening, I informed the team that I have no family history of colon cancer. 

“This is a colonoscope. This is what we use to insert into the colon,” Mistry explained. “As we look at all the mucosa on the entire colon. We’re able to see even small lesions that we can possibly take out today.” 

Once the anesthesia kicks in, Mistry started the screening.

“So it looks like she has a little tiny polyp here,” Mistry said during the procedure.

Two, flat polyps were found. 

When I awakened, it felt like I had woken up from a “great nap,” feeling no pain or soreness from the procedure. The polyps found during the colonoscopy were sent to a pathologist for further review. Mistry followed up with me.

“So, I did see two polyps and they were towards the end, to the right side of your colon,” Mistry told me. “They were kind of flat and small. With the colonoscopy, it’s high definition now so we are able to find even small polyps. It was questionable, so I took them out and under the microscope, it did show that they had a precancerous capability.”

The good news is because of the screening and removal — we will never know if they would have turned into cancer.

“As someone with no colon cancer in my family history, I was a bit stunned at the outcome of my procedure. Last year, I did an at-home colon cancer screening but the type of polyps I had wouldn’t have been detected. Because of what was found I will now have to have a colonoscopy every five years instead of ten. I agreed to do this story as a health advocacy piece but it turned out it could have potentially saved my life. Hopefully, it shows our viewers the importance of colon cancer screenings.”

WATE 6’s Tearsa Smith, after her first colonoscopy

According to The Colorectal Cancer Alliance, colon cancer is the fourth-most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. New data is showing that rates for people under 50 increased 2.2% each year. From 2009-2013, colorectal cancer incidence rates were 20% higher for African Americans.

When should I get screened?

  • The American Cancer Society recently recommended that adults without a family history should begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45.
  • If you are experiencing symptoms: Talk to your doctor immediately
  • Have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps: Get screened at age 40 or 10 years before the age of the youngest case in your immediate family (mother, father, sister, brother)
  • Are African American: Get screened at age 45
  • Have a genetic link to colorectal cancer such as Lynch Syndrome, FAP, etc.: Family members who tested positive for a relevant mutation(s) should start colonoscopy screening during their early 20s, or 2 to 5 years younger than the youngest person in the family with a diagnosis, and repeat it every 1-2 years. Family members who have not been tested yet should be screened during their early 20s, or 2 to 5 years younger than the youngest person in the family with a diagnosis.
  • Have a personal history of cancer: Talk to your doctor and get screened before age 45
  • Have ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease: Talk to your doctor about getting screened before age 45

Courtesy: The Colorectal Cancer Alliance

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s “How to prepare for your colonoscopy” can be found here.