Charleston Gazette Mail | Doctor survives colon cancer, becomes advocate for screenings

Dr. David Patton has had patients who have told him they would never get a colonoscopy.

For Patton, a Charleston OB-GYN and colon cancer survivor at 46, the push for screening and prevention has become an integral part of his life — when he asked his children to be screened for the disease, doctors discovered a pre-cancerous polyps in his 20-year-old son’s colon.

“He could have been a 25- or 27 year-old with colon cancer,” Patton said. “Fortunately, he had the polyp removed and has routine surveillance, and he’s fine so far.”

Colorectal cancer is the third-most diagnosed cancer in the U.S., and the most prevalent cancer among West Virginians. The disease usually begins with non-cancerous polyps in the lining of the colon or rectum, and symptoms include blood in the stool, constant stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, weakness or fatigue and changes in bowel movements. Removing polyps early can prevent colorectal cancer from developing, according to Patton.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has declared March Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in West Virginia. Last year, Tomblin became the first governor to sign the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s 2018 pledge to increase the rate of colon cancer screenings to 80 percent. Currently, only 63 percent of West Virginians over the age of 50 are screened for colorectal cancer, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Patton was diagnosed with stage IIID colon cancer in 2013. After three surgeries and six months of chemotherapy, Patton is in remission, he said.

“I’m not 50, and I really didn’t meet the screening criteria, but had enough symptoms to be checked out,” he said. “Being a doctor, we often ignore things longer than other people do, because we’re the worst patients many times.”

For those who have a family history of colorectal cancer, Patton recommends they get regular colonoscopies. For patients who are unsure or unwilling to undergo a colonoscopy and have not severe symptoms, Patton said a take-home test can be useful in detecting cancer.

The take-home test, Cologuard, allows patients to test their stool for altered DNA and blood associated with colorectal cancer and precancer. The test does not require dietary restrictions, medication or bowel preparation, and Patton said it is a great alternative for patients who are afraid to undergo a colonoscopy.

“I have patients who come in all the time and say ‘I am never getting a colonoscopy,’ because the whole thing conjures up a lot of fear and anxiety about the experience — everyone talks about how awful they are,” he said. “If they say that, I immediately discuss with them the Cologuard, and a lot of people are agreeable to that, because they can do it in the privacy of their own home, it can be picked up by UPS — it’s not nearly as intimidating.”

Patients whose Cologuards test positive for cancer or precancer will still have to undergo a colonoscopy, but Patton said he believes the availability of the take-home test could help bolster general screenings.

The maximum out-of-pocket cost of the test is $649, and it is covered by several insurers, including Medicare. For more information on the Cologuard test, visit www.cologuardtest.com.

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