March 6, 2024

Colon cancer screening: She’s glad she didn’t wait

A timely preventive test reveals Rebecca Kucera has cancer. Swift treatment gets her back to traveling and spending time with her family.

Rebecca Kucera (right) enjoys a day at the beach with her husband, Martin, and their son, Enzo.

Shortly after Rebecca Kucera turned 45, she went out to dinner with a group of friends. They’d gone to high school together and were around the same age.

Several were Kaiser Permanente members and had recently received at-home colon cancer test kits. Most people should begin screening for colon cancer at age 45.

“We joked with each other, ‘Did you get your birthday present?’” said Kucera, who works for the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Northern California.

Kucera knew cancer screening was important. But she’d been putting it off. That night, the friends all agreed to prioritize their health and send in their kits as soon as possible.

A convenient, at-home test for colon cancer

The test that Kucera and her friends received is called FIT, short for fecal immunochemical test. It checks for hidden blood in the stool. The kit comes with simple instructions for how to collect a sample at home and send it to a lab.

Soon after Kucera completed her test, her doctor reached out to schedule a colonoscopy, the standard next step if a FIT test is positive.

Colonoscopies allow doctors to look at the inner lining of the rectum and large intestine. This can help them find out why there is blood in the stool.

Sometimes, blood may be from ulcers or areas of inflammation. It can also be caused by abnormal growths called polyps.

Not all polyps are cancerous. But some are, and others may turn into cancer later.

During Kucera’s colonoscopy, her doctor removed several polyps. But one was larger and required a second colonoscopy and treatment from a specialist.

The importance of early detection

Kucera went in for a second colonoscopy. Rosa Valadao, MD, a gastroenterologist for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, removed the large polyp and had it tested.

It was positive for cancer. But since it was caught so early, Kucera’s prognosis was very good.

She had surgery to remove a small portion of her large intestine to make sure the cancer wouldn’t spread. The surgery was a success. Kucera recovered quickly and didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.

“Early detection is the key to my story,” Kucera said.

Dr. Valadao agrees. “Colon cancer survival rates are much higher when we find it before it spreads to other parts of the body,” she said. “Regular screenings save lives.”

man and woman in a rainforest
Kucera in Costa Rica with her husband, Martin.

Why and when to get screened

Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

And colon cancer rates in younger people have been on the rise in recent decades. That’s one reason why the recommended age to start screening was recently lowered from 50 to 45.

People with higher risk, including those with a family history of colon cancer, may need to start at an earlier age. Talk with your doctor about when you should start colon cancer screenings.

“Many of my patients feel perfectly fine, just like Rebecca did,” said Dr. Valadao. “Often, the only sign that they have colon cancer is their positive FIT test.”

An advocate for timely screening

Today, Kucera is back to doing the things she loves. She cooks often and enjoys hiking and traveling with her family.

She urges friends and family to keep up with colorectal cancer screening. “If I’d waited even just a couple of years, everything could have been a lot worse.”

Learn more about cancer care at Kaiser Permanente.