Paul Moe regularly played racquetball at the age of 70, and it had been a part of his life since the 1970s. He was healthy, active and felt great. The last thing on his mind was cancer.

After brushing aside a colonoscopy for decades and with an upcoming doctor's visits on the calendar, Paul decided to finally get a colonoscopy. The decision may have saved his life as he was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer. 

Paul was especially lucky to catch the cancer when he did since he had ignored his family’s medical history. His father and older brother had colon cancer, leaving him with an increased risk. Family history is an important indicator for colorectal cancers, but it still wasn’t the catalyst for Paul to get screened. 

Shahnaz Sultan, MD, MHSC, AGAF, University of Minnesota Physicians gastroenterologist, recognized that Paul’s case is a good example of why preventative screening is crucial.

One of the most important things we can do in medicine is to raise awareness about cancer screening. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. We’ve seen a reduction in mortality based on screening efforts.”

Dr. Shahnaz Sultan

Bridget Slusarek, RN, BSN, MBA, Nurse Service Line director for M Health Fairview Comprehensive Weight Management, GI and Nephrology, shared a similar sentiment.

“You can have early stages of cancer and have no symptoms; this is why the screening is so important. You might feel healthy and be fearful about doing a procedure and put off doing the screening,” Slusarek said. “We have nurses call patients beforehand to answer all questions and explain the procedure. The day of the procedure, you will meet the physician performing the procedure, and he or she will help answer your questions.”

Essentially, Paul says he was lucky, “I can tell you, to this day, I have no idea how long I had cancer.”

A colonoscopy helps detect colorectal cancer, and it can also detect and treat colon polyps, which are the precursor to cancer. 

Timing worked in Paul’s favor, and the colonoscopy detected the issue before it was widespread, but the barriers he faced before getting screened are still in place for many people. Physicians are aware of this as well. 

“I think there are a lot of barriers for people and we must address them to get a positive outcome,” Dr. Sultan said. Slusarek added, “You may have anxiety about it, and I can understand why people might be nervous. Knowing that there are skilled nurses calling and taking care of you before and after the procedure should be reassuring for anyone needing a colonoscopy screening.”

In hindsight, Paul was grateful that everything worked out as it did, and he now recognizes the importance of cancer screening. 

“It’s a joy to work with all of the staff. They’re unbelievable, and it’s a remarkable team. It’s a blessing to have them really,” he said.