Pat Milligan enjoys taking his dog, Buster Brown, for rides in his side-by-side. He also loves cross country skiing, hunting, and fishing, but he knows none of those activities are possible without his health. He keeps a close eye on it since he has a history of cancer in his family. His mother passed away from lung cancer at age 41 and his father passed away from colon cancer 17 years ago.
Milligan started getting colonoscopies at age 48, always at St. James. A polyp was found during one of them so he’s on a regimen to check often.
“A screening colonoscopy is done with the aim of identifying and removing early-stage colorectal cancer, and pre-cancerous lesions called polyps. A long camera with a light on the end of it is passed through the rectum, and the colonic tissue is carefully examined,” said Kristen M. Barrett, MD, in Gastroenterology.
It’s something that sounds worse than it is.
“Colon cancer is very treatable and curable if it’s caught very early,” said Barbie Dudden, RN, in Surgical Services at St. James. “Nobody wants to come and have it done. It’s just one of those things you check off your list. And you feel good about doing it once you’re done.”
She remembers Milligan telling her he was nervous before his procedure.
“I was very scared, very scared. Because you don’t know what they’re going to find,” said Milligan.
However, after it was all said and done, he says there was nothing to it.
“Have Barbie Dudden in there. She’s good. She takes care of you,” he said. “The care that the nurses do for you and the pre-op and when you get out, they take fantastic care of you. The doctor is great too.”
“Dr. Barrett is wonderful to work with. She takes great care of her patients and she is very good at what she does. She’s a very good GI doctor and I would recommend her to anyone, my family, I would go to her myself,” said Dudden.
Barrett says average-risk patients should start getting colonoscopies at age 50, age 45 for African Americans, and age 40 for someone with a family history or ten years before the relative's cancer diagnosis, whichever comes first.
“You’ll get some IV medication and you’ll be very comfortable and sleepy and we’ll wake you up when it’s done,” said Dudden. “Most people leave, when they leave they say, ‘Wow that wasn’t near as bad as I thought it was going to be.’”
Milligan was so impressed with his care team, he sent a nice note and a donation to the St. James Foundation.
He also tries to spread the word, telling his family members to get their colonoscopies.
“It is a good peace of mind when you have that done.”
While no medical procedure is without risk, Barrett explains that colonoscopy is considered a low-risk procedure. Potential risks include side effects of anesthesia, bleeding, infection, missed polyps/cancers, splenic injury, and perforation. The risk of perforation is less than one in one thousand.