March 31, 2016

Patient encourages early screening for colon cancer

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center patient encourages early screening for colon cancer.

Van Edmundson, left, here with Roberta Muldoon, M.D., recommends early screening for colon cancer to his friends. (photo by Daniel Dubois)

Van Edmundson, a retiree from Ashland City, Tennessee, had his first screening colonoscopy at 50, the age recommended for most patients. Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or with current gastrointestinal symptoms may need to be screened earlier.

Edmundson’s test was negative for colon cancer and he got the all-clear again when he was re-tested at 60.

But at 66, he suddenly started having shortness of breath and his wife insisted that he visit his family doctor. A screening blood test revealed anemia and his doctor ordered another colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy involves threading a flexible tube with a camera through the colon in search of masses or polyps growing along the walls of the digestive tract. Tiny cutting tools can be used to remove polyps, which are often benign but can become malignant if left there to grow.

This time, Edmundson’s doctor found an ominous mass — colon cancer.

“I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it…. I kept myself checked and I’m in good health. To me it was like hidden,” Edmundson said.

His wife, Beatrice, a nurse at the Veteran’s Administration hospital, asked colleagues to recommend a surgeon. They suggested Roberta Muldoon, M.D., assistant professor of Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who, as a colorectal surgeon, specializes in surgery of the gastrointestinal tract.

Muldoon ordered a CT scan and confirmed the presence of a mass that needed to be removed.

“At the time of surgery I found a four centimeter polyp that was harboring a two centimeter cancer near the splenic flexure. I was able to remove the cancer as well as 13 lymph nodes. Luckily all the lymph nodes were negative for cancer and there were no signs of any spread of cancer to other organs. His colonoscopy saved his life,” Muldoon said.

“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. She is one A-1 doctor,” said Edmundson.

Another bout with anemia two years after the initial surgery raised red flags, again.

“We again looked in the GI tract for a source of his anemia. His colon looked good, however we did find a benign polyp in his stomach that was easily removed at the time of his scope,” Muldoon said.

Because Van’s cancer was an aggressive form of the disease, he now undergoes annual colonoscopies and other scans to ensure that the cancer has not returned in his colon or spread to other parts of his body.

As a fellow health care professional, Beatrice Edmundson has been impressed with her husband’s care.

“They have just taken care of Van in a manner that I am very pleased and happy with. The doctors we have seen there have been top-notch and have kept us going. We really take our hats off to the Vanderbilt team.”

Van Edmundson, now 69, says he recommends early screening colonoscopies to all of his friends.

“A lot of people wait until they’re in their 60s or late 50s. I tell them to go get it early and keep themselves checked. If you feel something, go check it out. Don’t wait, because things pop up so quickly. I was just blown away when it happened to me,” Edmundson said.

For more information about screening colonoscopies, visit or call 615-645-1267 to schedule an appointment.