March 28, 2018

Saved by kismet, friendship, and Kaiser Permanente

Walter Roussell first crossed paths with Daniel “Stony” Anderson in the late 1980s when Anderson dropped into his salon for a haircut. Both retired from the military, they shared experiences and struck up a friendship.

Twenty-five years later, that friendship proved to be life-changing for Roussell. By then, Anderson had become a gastroenterologist at Kaiser Permanente San Diego — and a champion for regular colorectal screenings — and he urged his friend to stay up-to-date.

In 2012, Roussell had a colonoscopy and learned that a cancerous tumor had broken through the wall of his colon.

“I was hoping we had been lucky enough to catch it very early,” said Dr. Anderson, “but that wasn’t the case.” And in the months that followed, he worked with Roussell’s care team to aggressively treat the cancer with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

Excellence in cancer care

Physicians like Dr. Anderson have helped Kaiser Permanente earn a reputation for excellence in preventing and treating colorectal cancer:

  • A 2015 study found no racial/ethnic disparities in colon cancer survival rates among Kaiser Permanente patients. That’s despite persistent disparities in colon cancer survival in the U.S.
  • From 2010 to 2017, our Southern California and Northern California health plans have been tops in the state for colorectal cancer screenings, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s benchmarking of HEDIS scores in its NCQA Quality Compass.
  • Anderson was honored by the California Medical Association Foundation in 2017 with its Adarsh S. Mahal, MD, Access to Health Care and Disparities Award. The award recognized his work to improve colorectal cancer screening and diagnostics among communities of color over the past decade.

Six years after his diagnosis, Roussell is cancer-free and relishes the time he spends playing with his granddaughter and relaxing at his mountain cabin.

“Not many people have a friend who’s willing to give you bad news and who will stick with you,” he said of Dr. Anderson. “That friend, I will never forget.”

How can you prevent colon cancer?

About 1 in 20 people will develop colon cancer at some point in their life, usually after the age of 50.

Most early stage colon cancers don’t cause symptoms. That’s why we recommend routine screening, starting at age 50, for people at normal risk. People at higher risk, including those with a family history of colon cancer, should be tested sooner. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.

There are several screening tests available. The two most commonly offered are the FIT test (done annually) or colonoscopy (done every 10 years).

Here are some other steps you can take to reduce your risk of colon cancer while improving your health:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Do something active every day.
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet with whole grains and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Cut down on red meat, dairy products, and processed foods.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 1 to 2 drinks per day.
  • Quit smoking.