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Follow Your Gut: Preventing Colon Cancer Begins With Screening

March 6, 2014

Sherry Jansma with her grandson, March 2014 Care Story Sherry Jansma with her grandson

OAKLAND, Calif. — Grandmother Sherry Jansma had never faced a serious health problem.

But in 2011, Sherry became one of the 150,000 Americans to be diagnosed that year with colon cancer after an at-home screening test came back positive.

Just a few weeks prior, Sherry had opened her mailbox to find the screening test, called a Fecal Immunochemical Test, known as FIT, from Kaiser Permanente. The test sat on her counter for days.

“I told my husband I was going to throw it out,” Sherry remembered. After all, her previous tests had all come back, reliably, negative.

Unlike other colon screening tests that require preparation and trips to the doctor’s office, the FIT uses a stool sample, which can be taken at home, to find colon-related health issues.

Sherry decided not to waste a perfectly good screening test. She mailed the test back to her doctor’s office, and was surprised to get a call the following week from a Kaiser Permanente nurse, requesting that Sherry come in for a follow-up colonoscopy. The procedure ultimately revealed stage 0 colon cancer.

Colon cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, but it is also one of the most treatable. Joanne Schottinger, MD, is an oncologist with Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City (Calif).

“Two-thirds of people diagnosed with colon cancer survive,” Dr. Schottinger explained. “But if you catch it early, more than 90 percent of people survive.”

Because Sherry’s colon cancer was found early, doctors were able to remove the cancer through surgery. She spent a total of three days recovering.

For adults between the ages of 50 and 75, having regular screening tests and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce — and even prevent — colon cancer, which is often symptomless in its early stages.

Tips to reduce your risk of colon cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Eat well. A colon-healthy diet is made up of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish.
  • Limit alcohol. Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks per day heightens the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Exercise. Keeping a physically active lifestyle reduces risk of developing colorectal cancer, as well as other cancers and chronic diseases.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking increases a person’s risk of developing many different kinds of cancer, including colon cancer.

These are the symptoms of colon cancer:

  • Pain in the belly.
  • Blood in the stool, or very dark stools.
  • A change in bowel habits, such as more frequent stools or a feeling that your bowels are not emptying completely.
  • Always feeling tired.

These colon screenings are recommended for men and women beginning at age 50, though recommendations may differ for those at higher risk of developing colon cancer.

  • Fecal Immunochemical Test every year. This at-home screening test uses a stool sample to find abnormalities in the colon.
  • Sigmoidoscopy every five years. A sigmoidoscopy examines the first third of the colon, and allows the doctor to find cancer-containing polyps and remove them.
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years. A colonoscopy examines the entire colon, and allows the doctor to find cancer-containing polyps and remove them.

To learn more about colon cancer, please visit You can learn more about Sherry’s story in her Care Stories video.

Launched in July 2011, Care Stories is a collection of first-person video narratives from Kaiser Permanente members talking about their own care in their own words, unscripted and uncompensated.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve approximately 9.1 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: