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Published on November 01, 2016

Marty Samuelson: Catch cancer before it catches you

Samuelson and Wientzen

Marty Samuelson of Decorah, Iowa, is glad he followed Dr. Dan Wientzen's advice to have a colonoscopy, leading to early detection of cancer.

Colorectal cancer – cancer of the colon or rectum - is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States behind lung cancer. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable and curable cancers.

"The key to defeating colon cancer is prevention and early detection," explains Michael LaBelle, MD, a general surgeon at Gundersen Decorah Clinic. "The most effective test available to detect cancer and precancerous cells (polyps) in the colorectal area is through a colonoscopy."

People at the greatest risk of developing colon cancer include:

  • Patients with a family history of polyps or colon cancer
  • Patients who are 50 years old or older
  • Patients with a history of polyps
  • Patients with a history of other digestive conditions such as Crohn's disease or Lynch syndrome

Dr. LaBelle and his Gundersen General Surgery colleagues, Scott Bierman, MD; and Philip Yee, MD, perform colonoscopies in Decorah, Waukon, West Union and Cresco.

While it is a great benefit for patients to receive their colonoscopy close to home with a familiar staff, some are still hesitant to have a colonoscopy. "I realize the whole process can be intimidating, but most people get through it without much trouble, including the bowel prep," says Dr. LaBelle.

Marty Samuelson of Decorah was one person who dreaded having a colonoscopy. For two years, Dan Wientzen, DO, a Family Medicine physician at Gundersen Decorah Clinic, pressed Marty to have the procedure. "Dr. Wientzen kept telling me that it was important for me to have a colonoscopy but I just kept putting it off," says Marty.

Finally, a week before Marty's 50th birthday, he had a colonoscopy, and not a moment too soon.

During Marty's colonoscopy, which was performed at Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah, Dr. LaBelle found cancer. Marty was diagnosed with rectal cancer.

"We were able to detect Marty's cancer before it spread to lymph nodes or other parts of his body," Dr. LaBelle explains. "The farther the cancer spreads away from where it starts, the lower the chance of survival." Marty is currently undergoing treatment at Gundersen's Medical Oncology department in La Crosse.

"If you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps or if you are nearing 50 years old, talk to your primary care provider," recommends Dr. LaBelle. "They can determine the appropriate time to refer you for screening based on your risk factors."

For more information on colonoscopies, talk with your primary care provider, contact the Gundersen clinic nearest you or go to gundersenhealth.org/gastro.