Don't wait until next March to prevent colon cancer!

Time for a checkup; did you schedule a colorectal screening last year like we discussed? If you're reading this and think that it sounds familiar, it's not Déjà vu. It's just important that we talk about colorectal health every March.

I understand colon health is not the topic of lunch conversation, but it needs to be discussed.

We tend not to worry about things until we notice there's a problem. But, colon cancer can be a "silent killer" because pain is a late stage symptom of the disease. Sadly enough, it's one of the more preventable forms of cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women. With routine screening it may be diagnosed early offering better outcomes for treatment. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2013 there will be 102,480 new cases of colon cancer and 40,340 new cases of rectal cancer and about 50,830 people will die of the disease in the United States.

Colon cancer can be prevented by routine colonoscopies, which can detect other potential issues like polyps (grape-like growths on the wall of the intestine) that can potentially become cancerous, inflamed tissue and ulcers, diverticulitis and crohns disease.

At Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) we're very proactive in our efforts in preventative medicine by regularly offering free colon cancer screenings and free colonoscopies to those who qualify.

Men and women should begin colorectal screenings by the age of 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which checks for hidden blood in three consecutive stool samples, this should be done every year.
  • Virtual Colonoscopy, performed in low-risk patients (family history, no obvious signs of bad colon health.)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy, where physicians use a flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope) to look at the interior walls of the rectum and part of the colon. This should be done every five years.
  • Colonoscopy, where physicians use a flexible, lighted tube (colonoscope) to look at the interior walls of the rectum and the entire colon, should be done every 10 years. During this procedure, samples of tissue may be collected for closer examination, or polyps may be removed. Colonoscopies can be used as screening tests or as follow-up diagnostic tools when the results of another screening test are positive. In my opinion – the colonoscopy is the gold standard for detection.

Does a colonoscopy hurt? No, in most cases, patients are sedated and rarely feel any discomfort. In some cases, a patient may experience pressure due to air being pumped into the colon; this allows the physician to get the best possible picture if anything's abnormal.

So here's what you need to know:

Employees: being regularly screened can keep your health and your paycheck regular. Getting sick is more costly to your family than to your wallet. Prevention is more cost preventative than potentially spending tens of thousands in medical expenses.

Employers: promoting the importance of colon health is crucial at any organization. Prevention keeps employees healthy, therefore, keeping them working (plus raising awareness costs nothing). Information is available on numerous websites on the internet: the Colon Cancer Alliance initiative "Go Blue" has information available at www.ccalliance.org.

So, until we discuss this again next year, do your family a favor – get screened for colorectal cancer and Go Blue this month. For information on upcoming screenings at SIUH, visit our "events calendar" at www.siuh.edu or call 718-226-1832.

Theodore Strange, MD, associate chairman of the Department Medicine and vice president of Medical Operations, SIUH South.

Categories: SIUH Articles

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