Lessons Learned from my Patient's Experience with Health Screening

I am convinced on the importance of being current with age-appropriate screening and how it provides improved quality of life. This discovery came from a patient’s battle with colon cancer.

My patient was diagnosed with colon cancer. She exercised regularly and was mindful to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Prior to the diagnosis, she had unusual stomach cramps but given her history of good health, she did not take the symptoms seriously; she thought the cramps were just due to accumulation of gas in the stomach. The symptoms were relieved briefly by drinking hot black tea and ginger tea, but the symptoms persisted and eventually became so unbearable.

I was puzzled by her non-specific symptoms. After several weeks without symptoms resolution, she sought medical attention and was sent for a CT scan. The scan showed an inflamed colon. She was referred to a Gastroenterologist who recommended immediate colonoscopy. This was her first time of having a colonoscopy at 71 years old bearing in mind that the regular recommendation of a colonoscopy is at 50 years, earlier if there is a family history. The result revealed both a cancerous mass and pre-cancerous polyps.

I now, more than even appreciate the need for regular checkups – mammogram, Pap smear and colonoscopy and encouraging patients to complete their age-appropriate screens even if there are in good health.

My patient canceled her colonoscopy for the simple reason of her assumption of a good bill of health. But why not? She has always lived within healthy guidelines so why pursue an age-appropriate screen.

I have since changed my practice to encourage all patients to ensure thorough appropriate screening regardless of their health status or insurance background. We can always provide resources for centers providing free screening services for the community if the absence of insurance is the barrier. These age-appropriate screenings are crucial to the early detection of any abnormality such that it can be treated successfully without incurring very high cost and lasting damage to the body.

My patient is healthy today and is completely rid of cancer according to her last colonoscopy taken a year after her surgery. The incidence of the different types of cancer could have been avoided if as physicians we stressed the importance of age-appropriate to our patients. My patient was given a new lease of life and she is currently passing along the important message of the need for regular checkups. This is one experience I would not forget and would continue to disseminate; don’t delay your health maintenance screening test.

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