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Essentia Health nurse discovers importance of colon cancer screenings

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

When Jan Lothert turned 50 she knew it was important to go in for her first colonoscopy, a screening to detect colon cancer that is recommended at age 50. 

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But Lothert got busy and put it off for a few months until she realized she’d better get in for that colonoscopy before her next birthday rolled around. 

On Jan. 12, Lothert checked herself in at Essentia Health’s St. Joseph’s Medical Center endoscopy unit for the colonoscopy performed by gastroenterologist Dr. Bill Sachs. While the procedure may make anyone a little nervous, Lothert was surrounded by longtime friends who are nurses in the department. Lothert is a recovery room nurse upstairs and has worked at the hospital for the past 26 years. 

But that didn’t make it any easier when Sachs told Lothert that he had found a mass in her colon that was believed to be cancerous. Tests later determined it was stage 2 colon cancer. 

“I didn’t have any symptoms,” said Lothert. “I just turned 50 and was getting fit and felt great.”

Ten days later Lothert underwent surgery to remove the tumor and a portion of her colon. She was off work for about five weeks but was fortunate that the tumor was caught early enough that she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. Her recovery went well. 

“I think I was on the edge,” Lothert explained. “If I would have waited a year, it would have been worse.”

Lothert needs a follow-up colonoscopy three months after surgery because the tumor was embedded into the lining of her colon but she feels very fortunate it was detected when it was. 

Sachs said about 40 percent of the time polyps, a precursor to cancer, are found in patients who come in for their first colon cancer screening. Polyps are removed during the colonoscopy. Only about 1 percent of patients are actually diagnosed with colon cancer at the time of a routine screening colonoscopy so Lothert’s experience is relatively rare, he said. 

Sachs said if a patient has a close relative, such as a parent, who had colon cancer, then they should get in for a colonoscopy at age 40. Those who had polyps during an initial colonoscopy should be screened again in 3-5 years while the average person who has a negative colonoscopy at age 50 usually may wait 10 years until the next screening. 

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the endoscopy team at Essentia Health will host a program about colorectal cancer prevention from 1:30-3 p.m. Tuesday in the hospital’s River Room. Treats will be provided. 

While colon cancer affects women and men equally, women may tend to think it is a disease that primarily affects men. Sachs said he treats an equal number of men and women for colon cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States, right after lung and breast cancer. 

The good news, said Sachs, is that not only is colorectal cancer highly preventable, he said he’s seeing fewer advanced cases of colon cancer since many people are deciding to get screenings earlier. 

The endoscopy team at Essentia Health performs about 300-400 colonoscopies and other gastrointestinal procedures per month. Sachs and Dr. John Berg are board-certified gastroentrologists who perform the outpatient procedures. 

JODIE TWEED may be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.

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