At age 49, Vincent Tosti never thought about having a colonoscopy. His family had no history of colon cancer, and the otherwise healthy Long Islander wasn’t experiencing any pain. But he is now sharing his story during Colon Cancer Awareness Month to help others.
During a routine visit to his doctor, Tosti mentioned seeing blood in his stool. His family physician immediately referred him for a colonoscopy. The results were devastating. Tosti received a diagnosis of stage 3 colorectal cancer—the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
After the diagnosis, Tosti’s treatment included rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to reduce a large tumor before Toyooki Sonoda, MD, chief of the Division of Colorectal Surgery in the Department of Surgery at NYU Long Island School of Medicine, performed a complex surgical procedure to remove it. The procedure helped Tosti avoid a permanent colostomy and reflects how the hospital’s highly specialized rectal cancer team works together to achieve the best outcomes.
“The cancer had progressed to the stage where the patient had a substantial tumor in a location that made it difficult to remove,” said Dr. Sonoda, who is also a member of NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center. “Preserving the anal sphincter is always challenging in a narrow pelvis.”
In the United States, the overall incidence of colon and rectal cancer has been decreasing each year for the past three decades. This trend has been attributed to more patients getting screened, as precancerous lesions can be removed during a colonoscopy before they turn into cancer. However, in young patients under the age of 50, there has been an alarming increase in the rate of colorectal cancer by 1 to 2 percent a year since the mid-1900s. There has also been a shift toward more advanced disease at the time of diagnosis.
The American Cancer Society now recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. For individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, the screening should start at age 40, or 10 years before the age of the youngest affected family member.
Dr. Sonoda says don’t wait to get a colonoscopy until you have symptoms, which are usually signs that a cancer has progressed. Those symptoms include a change in bowel habits, abdominal pain, or blood in the stool.
“It stinks to do the prep work, but it saved my life,” Tosti said. “If I wouldn’t have gone to the screening, I don’t know if I would be sitting here today.”
Although Tosti has had to make some lifestyle changes, he is looking forward to celebrating his 54th birthday in a few months—active, healthy, and cancer-free.
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