Vivek Kalra was at a get-together with friends when he suddenly started to feel uneasy.
"It was almost like a heaviness. Almost like you could say heartburn, just heaviness, bloating, maybe," said Kalra.
That uneasiness turned into severe abdominal cramps just hours later. Kalra tried to sleep it off, but the pain was unbearable and so at the recommendation of a friend who was a doctor, he made the trip into the emergency room.
In the hallway of the ER is where he received the life-changing diagnosis from the doctor.
"He said you're not going anywhere. We found an apple-sized tumor in your colon and we're pretty sure it's cancerous. You need to have surgery right away," said Kalra.
"I'll be honest. Colon cancer was nowhere on my radar," admitted Kalra.
Getting a colorectal cancer screening, or colonoscopy was also nowhere on his radar. Until now, doctors have not recommended you get a colonoscopy until after the age of 50. Despite the American Cancer Society's recommendation to lower the age two years ago, until now, insurance will not pay for a screening before 50. Now the U.S Preventive Services Task Force has released new guidelines recommending colonoscopies at the age of 45 instead of 50.
Dr. Toufic Kachaamy, Medical Director of Gastroenterology at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America hailed this move saying he believed it would save many lives.
"The reason is the incidence of colon cancer is on the decline over the age of 50 and is on the rise before the age of 50," said Dr. Kachaamy.
Dr. Yitin Patel, a Chandler gastroenterologist, explained how the procedure works.
"We introduce a fiber optic camera which is about, you know, 100-120 centimeters in length, and we navigate it to the end of the colon. Once we get to the end of the colon, we very slowly withdraw the camera while examining the entire mucosa of the skin of the colon looking for growths or lesions that we call polyps and polyps or precancerous lesions. So, the vast majority of colon cancers begin is polyps. It takes about 7-10 years from normal to colon cancer," said Dr. Patel.
"It starts as a small polyp which then slowly gets bigger and bigger, eventually it becomes a large polyp, and then it turns into a cancer, so we have a timeline that we can pick off these polyps to prevent the cancer," explained Dr.Patel.
Dr. Kachaamy said the insurance industry follows the guidelines of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, so he did not foresee any push back.
"This not only makes sense it saves lives, and it saves money. There's really no reason why insurance companies would be fighting a recommendation like that," said Dr. Kachaamy.
Some of the signs that you may want to see your doctor about included rectal bleeding, dramatic changes in bowel habits that was persistent, unintentional weight loss. Lab tests showing iron deficiencies or anemia may also be things you want to investigate further, according to Dr. Patel.
Vivek and his wife Ruchi Kalra have now dedicated themselves to spreading awareness about early colorectal cancer screenings and have encouraged at least 50 people in their community to go get tested.
They hoped to increase those numbers. Kalra's cancer was at Stage 3 when it was caught. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. His message to the community is no matter how uncomfortable or invasive you might think a colonoscopy sounds, it is important.
"Trust me when I say this, trust me. Six months of Chemo, you know, compared to that, it's like a walk in the park," said Kalra.
You can learn more about colorectal cancer at Colorectal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments | CTCA (cancercenter.com)