She Beat Colon Cancer

Former patient advises others not to ignore symptoms

TUESDAY, March 9, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Like most people, Pati Lanning could ignore the warning signs of a health problem.

The trouble started in July 1998, when she noticed rectal bleeding. "It was intermittent," she recalls. "I ignored it for a while. Then it got so heavy there was no ignoring it. Of course, I knew this could be a symptom of colorectal cancer. I went to my internist."

In short order, he sent Lanning to a gastroenterologist, who examined her, did blood work and scheduled her for a colonoscopy -- an examination of the colon -- and a biopsy.

The tests confirmed her worst fears: "It came back malignant," she recalls. Her doctor ordered chemotherapy, radiation to shrink the tumor and then more chemotherapy, Lanning says.

"By the time they went in to do surgery, the radiation had zapped the tumor," Lanning says. Still, they removed a stretch of colon and put her back on chemotherapy.

Grueling as it was, she was finally finished with treatment by the summer of 1999. And these days, her doctors tell her there is "no evidence of disease." But her oncologist has also told her she could get the cancer again.

Colorectal cancers will kill about 56,000 Americans this year, according to American Cancer Society estimates. An estimated 106,370 colon and 40,570 rectal cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2004.

If more people got screened, through colonoscopy and other tests, the number of cases would decline substantially, experts say.

More than 90 percent of those diagnosed are over the age of 50. Besides age, other risk factors include a personal or family history of the cancer or polyps, which precede the cancer.

Today, Lanning, 52, a homemaker in suburban New Orleans, spreads the word by volunteering 10 hours or so a week for the Colon Cancer Alliance and the American Cancer Society.

She stresses to people the importance of getting screened for colon cancer at age 50, or earlier if there is a family history. And she talks to newly diagnosed patients to share her story.

"It's normal to be afraid," she tells those with symptoms. "But the sooner you go to the doctor to check it out, the better. Early detection saves lives."

If diagnosed early and treated, the death rate can be reduced by up to 90 percent, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. The survival rate drops if not detected early, so Lanning knows just how lucky she is.

SOURCE: Pati Lanning, homemaker and volunteer, New Orleans
Consumer News