Mankato Half Marathon Schwartz

Monde Schwartz points her finger to the sky as she crosses the finish line with Alicia Truebenbach during the 2017 Mankato half-marathon. The sisters were running about seven months after their sister, Tiffany Rodning, also a runner, died of colon cancer at 49. Rodning, while sick, was at the race cheering her sisters on the year before. Schwartz said she hopes the American Cancer Society's new guidelines calling for colon cancer screenings to start at age 45 instead of 50 could save lives. File photo

MANKATO — After 49-year-old Tiffany Rodning of Gaylord died in 2017 from an aggressive form of colon cancer, her younger sisters made sure to get screened.

They hadn’t yet turned 50, the age doctors traditionally recommended people to start receiving screenings, but neither was their sister when she was diagnosed seven months before her death.

Colon cancer rates among people younger than 50 are on the rise, prompting the American Cancer Society this week to lower its screening recommendation to age 45.

Monde Schwartz, Rodning’s 49-year-old sister, said there's a chance Tiffany might’ve caught her illness sooner if the guidelines were in place years ago.

“It’s interesting to think something like that may have saved her life,” she said.

She’s hopeful the updated guideline will save other families from the ordeal hers went through.

“That’s just thrilling for someone who lost someone so young,” she said of the age 45 recommendation. “It’s great.”

Other organizations could end up following suit with the cancer society's guidelines. If enough make the switch, the recommendation could influence whether the screenings are covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Dr. Stephan Thome, Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato’s regional oncology medical director, said the Cancer Society’s change will more immediately raise awareness for the importance of screenings.

“Even if it takes awhile to find widespread use and reimbursement, I think opening up the conversation that young people can get colon cancer, that awareness alone will lead to earlier diagnosis and potential for more lives saved,” he said. “I think it’s a great first step.”

Dr. Matthew Carns, a gastroenterologist at Mankato Clinic, expects the change to spur plenty of screening conversations between patients and doctors.

“For pure screening, it’s going to push us to at least have the conversation to see if they have interest in the screening,” he said.

The guideline is for anyone with average risk for colon cancer, which according to the Cancer Society includes people without:

  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome
  • History of radiation to the abdomen or pelvic regions to treat prior cancer

Patients have multiple options for screening, which they should discuss with their doctor. A colonoscopy every 10 years up until someone turns 75 is the one most are familiar with, but stool-based exams include DNA tests every three years or an annual fecal immunochemical test.

"Any of the screening options are better than doing nothing at all,” Carns said, adding stool testing should be followed by a colonoscopy if it turns up anything. 

Colorectal cancer is considered treatable when caught early. In early stages it’s generally found in operable sections of the colon.

Colon and rectal cancer rates among people younger than 50 rose from 6 percent to 11 percent between 1990 and 2013, according to figures from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Thome said work remains in understanding why the rise happened, but he named obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption as possible factors.

The Cancer Society's new guideline, he said, is a great acknowledgement of the changing face of the disease. 

”Age is a big risk factor in most cancers, but the public health message is in rare circumstances it can happen to young people too,” he said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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