He’s the literal picture of health. Dr. Mehmet Oz is known as “America’s Doctor” and is on TV advocating a healthy lifestyle. He's also now classified as “high risk” for cancer and learning what it means to be a patient.
Several weeks ago, when he turned 50, Oz had a routine screening colonoscopy. He didn’t expect any unusual results – he’s physically fit, eats a healthy diet, doesn’t smoke and has no family history related to colorectal cancer. When the doctor became the patient, however, he learned that the belief that a healthy lifestyle is a magic shield against cancer simply isn’t true.
Dr. John LaPook found and removed a small adenomatous polyp – a non-cancerous growth that has the potential to turn into a cancerous growth over time if it’s not removed. These types of polyps become more common as people age, and that’s why colonoscopies are recommended every five years starting at age 50. La Pook said, “Statistically, most small polyps like his don’t become cancer. But almost all colon cancers begin as benign polyps that gradually become malignant over about 10-15 years.”
In media interviews the story of Oz’s routine screening, and common finding, became a cancer scare story. Interviews quoted Oz as saying finding the polyp was “dumb luck” and that he would have put off the screening for another 10 years except that it was a good topic for his TV show. He told People magazine, “This was a shakeup for me. I have done everything right. I don’t have any family history, and yet I’m high risk now. There’s a lot of tension. It’s frustrating. Why did this happen to me? It forces you to question the assumptions you make about life.”
The doctors who advise patients to have these screening exams already know what Oz is learning. No matter what you do, or how you live, you can’t totally remove your risk of developing colon or rectal cancer. This disease is expected to affect some 143,000 people in the U.S. this year, and kill more than 51,000. Of those who die, about 30,000 were never screened. The majority of patients – about 70 percent – have no family history of colorectal cancer.