By Margaret Kemeny, M.D.
Director, Cancer Center, Queens Hospital Center
You may have heard about the efforts of celebrities like Katie Couric and Ozzy Osbourne to promote colon cancer prevention during March, which is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. Since colon cancer is the number two leading cause of cancer deaths in America, many organizations and individuals participate in activities that help educate and motivate an understanding of this disease.
What is colorectal cancer?
Colon cancer usually begins as one or more tiny growths, called polyps, in the colon or rectum. If not removed, these polyps may turn into cancer.
What is Queens Hospital Center doing about colorectal cancer?
In 2011, we provided 1,412 colonoscopies and treated 50 patients for colorectal cancer. We also make sure that when they turn 50, every employee receives a birthday card that also reminds them about the need to get screened. Further information, videos, links and brochures are available on our web site at http://www.nyc.gov/html/hhc/html/feature/coloncancer.shtml.
We at Queens Hospital Center have started the first comprehensive cancer center in the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) system. We can offer state-of-the-art treatment for colorectal cancer, which includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. We also have a specialized center for liver metastases from colorectal cancer. We can offer liver surgery, hepatic artery pump chemotherapy, radiofrequency ablation of the tumors and more.
Can anything be done about colorectal cancer?
Yes. A colonoscopy is an exam performed by a gastroenterologist or surgeon where the lining of the rectum and colon are examined for the presence of polyps or other abnormalities.
Studies have shown that it can take about 10 years from the development of a polyp to the progression into a cancer. If these polyps are detected early and removed, these cancers can be prevented. If a colorectal cancer does develop, removal of the cancer at an early stage, before the cancer has had the chance to spread to other tissues or organs, can increase the likelihood of a cure.
In fact, just last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a 20-year study done in New York City which showed that colon cancer screening with colonoscopy, including the removal of the lesions that can develop into cancer, reduced the death rate from colon cancer by more than 50 percent.
Who is at risk for colorectal cancer?
Both men and women are at risk. Colon cancer occurs most often in people 50 years of age and older, and the risk increases as you get older. A family history of colon cancer may also increase your risk for this disease. People at high risk for colon cancer may need to get tested more often and at an earlier age.
Is colon cancer preventable?
Yes. Removing growths early can prevent cancer. If cancer already exists, screening tests can find it early when it’s easier to treat. Everyone 50 years of age or older should have regular colon cancer screening tests.
What are the signs of colorectal cancer?
People who have polyps or colon cancer usually don’t have signs of it, especially in the early stages. That’s why having regular screening tests is so important! However anyone with rectal bleeding should be screened.
How do I get screened?
Colon cancer screening is available at all HHC public hospitals at little or no cost. If you don’t have insurance or can’t afford medical care, you may qualify for HHC Options. Visit our web site, www.nychhc.org, to find an HHC hospital near you.