"Be aware of your body:" Screening could save you from second leading cancer killer

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A routine screening could save you from the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.: colon or rectal cancer.  March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, and doctors want people to know just how preventable this disease can be.

A gold Olympic torch is Kyle Mandry's pride and joy. He was chosen to run with it in the 2012 Olympic Games because of how he beat rectal cancer. Something he might never have done, had it not been for a simple colonoscopy.

"I had some blood in my stool and I had a change in my bowel movements. It affected me for about two weeks and it told me, something is going on," Mandry said.

Mandry had stage three rectal cancer. The diagnosis brought him to Dr. Kirk Ludwig.

At Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, the hospital deals with about 300 cases of colon or rectal cancer a year. In the U.S., 140,000 patients are diagnosed, and a third die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Ludwig says if you're experiencing symptoms, it could be too late.

"It's a tumor that can be silent for a long period of time," Dr. Kirk Ludwig said.

Dr. Ludwig says about 60 to 80 percent of colorectal cancer cases can be prevented with a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy screening allows doctors to find polyps – abnormal growths in the colon or rectum that may become cancer – and remove them before the polyps have the opportunity to turn into cancer.

"If the polyps are taken out then you can avoid the cancer risk altogether," Dr. Ludwig said.

A first colonoscopy is recommended for people at age 50, and regularly thereafter.  Individuals with specific symptoms or a family history of colon cancer may require screenings at a younger age

The procedure, followed by two surgeries plus chemotherapy and radiation, saved Mandry's life.

"Be aware of your body and symptoms,"Mandry advises.

Doctors say while most colorectal cancer cases were seen in patients 50 years or older, those are decreasing. Rates are now on the increase among those in their 30s and 40s.