How screening techniques for cancer save lives and offer hope

Cover storyIt was the suspicious blood test that first concerned Michelle Wright’s doctors. They suspected cancer might be causing the abnormal results — they just didn’t know where it was or which type of cancer it might be.

In addition to hearing the “C” word, Michelle and her husband, David, faced the added stress of how to pay for all the tests she would need to find or rule out cancer. David is self-employed and at the time, the couple lacked health insurance.

Through the Screen for Life program, Michelle was able to sign up for a free colonoscopy at the UF Health Cancer Center. It was the one test the couple weren’t particularly concerned about.

So they were shocked when the colonoscopy revealed a large tumor growing inside her colon.

“Colon cancer is the one thing we did not expect,” David says. “Michelle is the healthiest woman I have ever known.”

Michelle added, “Nobody in my family has ever had anything like that.”

Michelle was diagnosed with type 3A colon cancer in June 2012 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy to treat the disease. One year later, she’s feeling almost back to normal.

The colonoscopy saved her life, and now Michelle urges friends and loved ones to get the test because not only can it catch cancer, it can actually help prevent it from developing in the first place.

As people age, polyps can develop in the lining of the colon. If not removed, these polyps can, over time, turn cancerous. Ideally, the goal of a colonoscopy is to find these polyps before they become cancer. If found during the procedure, the polyps are immediately removed, thus preventing the disease from developing, says Thomas George, M.D.

“Colorectal cancer isn’t something we normally talk about at the dinner table, but it’s the second or third leading cause of cancer deaths depending on what statistics you look at it,” George, says. “If all we did is make sure people got screened, we would almost eliminate colon cancer, not only in people here but in citizens across the country.”

Sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health and in partnership with the UF Health Cancer Center, the Moffitt Cancer Center and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami, Screen for Life provides free or low-cost colonoscopies to uninsured and underinsured Floridians and also works to educate the public about colon cancer and the importance of screening.

After watching his wife battle colon cancer, David signed up to get his own colonoscopy through Screen for Life. He went in for the screening in June.

“I hope more people take advantage of Screen for Life,” Michelle says. “Don’t wait like me.”

Adds David, “We know firsthand what can happen if you don’t get screened early. Nobody wants to go through this.” — April Frawley Birdwell

For More Information About Screen For Life, Call 352-334-7945 Or Visit www.Doh.State.Fl.Us/Family/Cancer/Crc/Screening.Html

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Summer 2013

Paul Okunieff, M.D

From the Director’s Desk

Our health system is no longer known as UF&Shands. We are now University of Florida Health. As a result, we have a new name, too. We’re proud to announce that our center is now the UF Health Cancer Center.

The best test you’ll ever take

It was the suspicious blood test that first concerned Michelle Wright’s doctors. They suspected cancer might be causing the abnormal results — they just didn’t know where it was or which type of cancer it might be.

Screening Saves

Review a cancer-by-cancer breakdown of screening recommendations. It could save your life.

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