Colorectal cancer will likely claim more than 50,000 lives this year, say experts. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the U.S.; yet, if caught early, it is preventable, treatable, and even curable.
Timely screening is the most effective method for early detection and prevention, so throughout March—Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month—and into April, the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone are offering a series of screening opportunities in Brooklyn.
Marine Park resident Margaret Reddy serves as a cautionary tale for those who wait too long before a colorectal screening.
“I had been feeling relatively well until I was suddenly overcome with exhaustion that got progressively worse over a period of two weeks,” recalls Reddy, 67. A test showed her blood count was low, so she needed to receive blood transfusions to treat her anemia. She felt very weak and her doctor suggested she see a gastroenterologist and have a colonoscopy.
“Her colonoscopy revealed an adenomatous polyp—an abnormal growth on the colon that can develop into cancer. It was located in an area that required surgical removal,” says Josef A. Shehebar, MD, director of colorectal surgery at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, who performed minimally invasive surgery. “Mrs. Reddy’s polyp had in fact become cancerous, but fortunately there was no lymph node involvement so she did not need chemotherapy and she went home after three days.”
Reddy will require close follow-up but is a great success story, according to Dr. Shehebar, who says too many patients delay their screenings and therefore can reduce their chance for good outcomes if cancer is found.
“It can take 7 to 10 years for a polyp to turn cancerous. The most effective screening for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy, which often enables removal of polyps and early cancers at the same time,” Dr. Shehebar explains. “Colonoscopy is not just for people over the age of 50. More importantly, younger people with a significant family history need to be screened 10 years before their first-degree relative was diagnosed, or no later than 40 years old.”
In addition to family history of polyps and cancer, bowel changes, particularly blood in the stool; unexplained weight loss; and anemia in a middle-aged person are red flags that need a closer evaluation.
“When surgery is necessary, the procedure is individualized to each patient. A minimally invasive approach—laparoscopic or robot-assisted—is always desired for early-stage lesions confined to the colon or rectum. This can limit surgical trauma and postsurgical pain, decrease the length of stay in the hospital, and allow for an earlier return to work and normal activities,” says Dr. Shehebar. NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn is equipped with the most advanced laparoscopic and robot-assisted technology.
This and next month’s screening opportunities provide education about the options available, allow attendees to set up an appointment for an evaluation, and even receive a take-home method of screening called a fecal immunochemical test, or FIT.
For information about screenings or to make an appointment for an evaluation, please call 718-630-7155.