By Dennis Minich
In August of last year, a Harrisonville woman died following a colonoscopy at Cass Regional Medical Center. The report of the death led state inspectors to issue a warning about hospital and the facility went through a comprehensive review process. Last month the state returned and found the hospital had corrected the necessary issues and deemed the hospital “compliant.”
While the questions surrounding the death have been answered, medical officials at the hospital want to get the word out that colonoscopies are still a valuable tool in the diagnosis and treatment of many colorectal conditions and the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Afton Becker, a nurse at CRMC, is President-Elect of the Heartland Regional Society of Gastroenterology Nurses Association and also serves as a committee member on the National SGNA Health Care Policy Committee and acts as the SGNA liaison to the Digestive Disease National Coalition. She said people need to be aware of the very-real threat of colon cancer.
“Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, but it is one we can prevent. Colonoscopies are the tool that makes that possible.
“We have had some cancellations after reports surfaced, but it is important for people to have a colonoscopy if their doctors have recommended it.”
According to national statistics, about 30 percent of colonoscopies lead to the discovery of polyps and many of those polyps are precancerous.
Dr. Walter Costner, a surgeon at CRMC said that statistic demonstrates the value of colonoscopies.
“If you do 1,000 colonoscopies a year, that means about 300 potential cancers have been avoided. That’s 300 people who don’t have to go through the treatments, the chemotherapies that accompany cancer. In comparison, the adverse outcome rate is about .03 percent,” Costner said.
Dr. Aaron Travis, a family practitioner, has performed about 1,000 colonoscopies per year for the past 15 years with no adverse outcomes. Neither he nor Costner were involved in the August event, but he said the response to the incident has been significant.
“We have reexamined all of our processes from start to finish. If changes needed to be made, they have been made and new procedures have been put in place for aftercare,” he said.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, a colonoscopy is a procedure which enables a physician to directly image and examine the entire colon. About 6 percent of all Americans will develop colon cancer in their lifetimes. Those chances double for people who have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) who have developed polyps in their lifetimes. Also, people with certain risk factors including smoking, obesity, heavy alcohol use and certain colon-related diseases are at a higher risk.
According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for people with colon cancer is 64 percent. If the cancer is diagnosed early, the survival rate is 91 percent. If colon cancer spreads to distant parts of the body the five-year survival rate is 14 percent.
There were 1,010 colonoscopies at Cass Regional last year and so far this year, 160.
Because of the importance of the screening, all of those interviewed said even if a patient chooses to go somewhere else to have it done, it still needs to be done.
And while all were concerned about the death last year, they all emphasized the procedure’s benefit far outweighs the risk and Costner said hearing about one incident shouldn’t stop people from having a colonoscopy.
He said, “A person putting off a colonoscopy because they heard of one bad outcome would be like someone hearing about a highway fatality and decide they won’t drive anymore.”