HEIDELBERG, Germany - A colonoscopy is something many people try to put off as long as possible - it just doesn't have a great reputation for being a screening to get excited about.

For many, depending on family and personal health history, the procedure is not necessary until reaching age 50. But sometimes, issues arise that may prove a need for the procedure earlier than that.

For Mannheim-based defense contractor Tony Voles, that issue was found during routine pre-deployment medical exams.

Voles, 49, who served in the Army for three years and has been a contractor for 25 years, thought he had a little bit of time before needing to be screened.

"I am a civilian employee of a defense contractor, and I was going through my pre-deployment physical at the Heidelberg clinic in December, 2010," he said in an email to HMEDDAC. "I was preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan after the New Year. Part of the physical involved completing an occult blood test."

Due to other health issues of Voles', when the test came back positive, it was almost dismissed as being normal. However, Leslie Mittag, Heidelberg Medical Department Activity's Population Health Nurse, noticed the result while looking over his paperwork, and insisted he have a follow-up test.

"She insisted that I have another test that covered a three-day period," he said. "At this point, I did not think it was necessary, and since the doctor had already signed my paperwork, I did not want to do the test, but she insisted. I did the test and all three samples came back positive. At this point, I was not alarmed because the doctor advised me that a second test would probably come back positive."

Nevertheless, Mittag encouraged him to schedule a colonoscopy with a local German facility. He did, and the results were frightening - a cancerous tumor.

"I was devastated when I heard the news," he said. "I was speechless, I heard what the Doctor was saying, but I could not believe he was talking about me.

"Physically I felt fine so, how could I have cancer' This was my worst nightmare, and I did not know what to do. If my wife was not there to support me, I am not sure how I would have handled the days and weeks following the news. I also sought out the advice from a good friend who was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. Talking with him about his ordeal helped me accept my situation," he said.

Voles is now back in the United States being treated for the cancer.

"I was not planning to have a colonoscopy until sometime after April of 2011 when I turn 50 years of age," he said. "However, since I did not have any symptoms and I do not of a family history of colorectal cancer, I cannot say for sure when I would have actually had the procedure done."

Mittag said she was just doing her job when she encouraged him to get the screenings - a job she simply loves.

"I had my intuition tell me something wasn't right, and felt he needed further testing," she said. "I went to (his doctor) and informed her of the patient since she had recently also seen him regarding immunizations. She put a hold on his deployment, and then I took him over to the TRICARE Service Center to get assistance on getting him a colonoscopy procedure as soon as possible. I felt obligated to thoroughly make sure he was totally looked at regarding the positive fecal occult blood testing that was done."

Voles said he understands now the importance of the recommended screenings.

"I urge everyone to follow the guidelines for fecal occult blood test screenings, Sigmoidoscopies, and colonoscopies. It is important to have these procedures done in order detect cancer at its earliest stage," he said.

Col. P.K. Underwood, HMEDDAC commander, said this story is an example of the importance of preventive screenings.

"These screenings are not just something to take for granted - they save lives," she said. "Preventive screenings are there to help keep you healthy and find health issues before they become something more serious.

"This is also a great reminder of the outstanding professionals we have working here at HMEDDAC who are fully committed to patient safety and patient health," Underwood said.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. For more information, talk to your healthcare provider or visit www.cancer.gov.