The Richmond Register

April 1, 2013

A brothers’ story of colon cancer prevention

Importance of check ups come home

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — There are certain traditions families like to pass down from one generation to the next — but colon cancer will not be one of them for the Marcum family.

Rick Marcum felt perfectly fine, said the 61-year-old Richmond resident.

“That’s why they call (colon cancer) the ‘silent killer,’” said Rick, who never felt the need to get a colonoscopy despite being “pushed” by his wife and brothers to do so.

Rick’s brother Larry Marcum, 65, had several pre-cancerous polyps removed and their father, Donald Marcum, had several removed as well. But Rick didn’t heed the warning.

When he finally got checked out, it was discovered that Rick had a significant lesion inside his colon, which required surgery. If he had waited any longer, it would have turned into cancer in less than a year, he said.

Had Rick received regular colonoscopies, recommended at age 50, doctors would have been able to easily remove the polyps with a flexible lighted telescope during his colonoscopy, said Dr. Joshua Steiner  with St. Joseph East Hospital in Lexington.

“You wouldn’t even know they did it,” Rick said.

If under age 50, Steiner said, early detection is recommended if a person is experiencing bloating, bleeding from the rectum, pain or — in Rick’s case — a family history of polyps, which lead to colon cancer.

“Men aren’t good with prophylactic (preventative) medicine,” Steiner said. “We don’t take good care of ourselves sometimes.”

Women generally have annual obstetrics and gynecological exams, he said, whereas most men do not have annual checkups.

“Although we should,” he added.

It had been six years since Rick’s other brother Jerry, 62, had a colonoscopy. Jerry had been pretty insistent that Rick get checked out, but failed to take his own advice.

When it was decided that Rick would need surgery, Jerry decided a colonoscopy was in order.

Jerry also visited Dr. Steiner, who found an almost identical lesion and in the same area as his brother Rick.

Within a few years of one another, both brothers underwent a minimally invasive robotic-assisted right hemicolectomy with the da Vinci Surgical System.

With this system, the doctor fills a patient’s abdomen with nonflammable gas to blow it up and allow “for some working space,” Steiner said.

A few incisions are made and trochars, or “working ports” are secured in place so the doctor can insert instruments to perform the surgery.

With the assistance of robotic arms, Steiner can complete the entire surgery while looking at a high-definition, three-dimensional image of the lesion magnified 10 to 12 times the actual size, he said.

The da Vinci system can be used for thoracic, urologic, gynecologic, pediatric, general and transoral surgeries as well.

Both brothers spent around two days in the hospital and had relatively “uneventful” recoveries, Steiner said.

“They were taken care of with the latest, greatest technology, had short hospital stays and are cancer-free,” the doctor said. “Now, they have no different survival rate than me or you. If it had been allowed to turn into cancer, that would have been significantly different.”

Despite common perceptions about colonoscopies, “I’m a believer,” Rick said. “It’s the best and easiest thing you can ever do — compared to surgery.”

He said the worse part about a colonoscopy is the night before, when the colon must be “cleaned out” with a powerful bowel-clearing substance.

“You will not leave the house, let’s just put it that way,” Rick joked.

His 37-year-old son is “not real worried about polyps” right now, Rick said. “But he needs to definitely start thinking about it.”

Rick and his brothers will require yearly surveillance because of their family and medical history, Steiner said.

“But I won’t hesitate this time,” Rick said. “It’s so simple to take care of this problem if you don’t wait like I did.”

In February 2000, President Bill Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Crystal Wylie can be reached at cwylie@ or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.