Colorectal Cancer is Preventable, Treatable, Beatable
By Mary George, CGRN, and Rachel Ayers, RN
According to the Department of Health, colorectal
cancer claims the lives of about eighteen Tompkins County residents every year.
Many more area residents successfully avoid colorectal cancer each year through
screening and preventive measures, or are diagnosed early enough in the disease
process to be treated and cured.
In spite of the fact that colorectal cancer is
preventable 90 percent of the time, it remains the second leading cause of
cancer death after lung cancer. Furthermore, when colorectal cancer is detected
in the early stage, as it often is during routine screening, it can be cured 90
percent of the time. It is, in fact, one of the most curable forms of
potentially fatal cancer. As gastroenterology nurses, we want to help increase
public understanding about prevention and treatment and lower the number of
lives lost to this type of cancer.
How can we raise awareness about colorectal cancer?
We have joined a national campaign similar to the
highly effective educational campaign around early breast cancer detection and
screening mammography. By way of illustration, in women over
the age of fifty, 86 percent schedule regular screening mammograms but only 41
percent have been screened for colorectal cancer. Yet women are more
likely to die of colorectal cancer than cancer of the breast.
Who is at risk for colorectal cancer?
Men and women are equally at risk
and the chances of developing colorectal cancer increase with age. For these
reasons, regular screening should begin at age 50 if you have no family history
of this disease. However, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer,
talk with your doctor to decide when regular screening should start.
How do you screen for colorectal
There are a number of different
ways you can screen for colorectal cancer; however, the gold standard is a
colonoscopy. This is an outpatient procedure that is available in Tompkins
County at Cayuga Medical Center and Surgicare. Colonoscopies are performed only
by board-certified gastroenterologists, assisted by experienced registered
Why are colonoscopies the “gold
Almost all colorectal cancers start
out as a little growth (polyp) on the lining of the intestine. We don’t know
what causes polyps but we do know that by removing them, a person’s chances of
developing colorectal cancer are greatly reduced. The advantage of a
colonoscopy over other screening methods is that if the doctor discovers polyps
during the exam, they can be removed immediately and sent to the lab for
testing. While the majority of polyps are not cancerous, a percentage do show
signs of cancer and by discovering them early the chances for a cure are very
With such a high rate of prevention
and cure, why doesn’t everyone get screened for colorectal cancer?
Some people are reluctant to get
screened for colorectal cancer because they are embarrassed about the
procedure. We encourage people to overcome their concerns because the doctors
and nurses on staff at Cayuga Medical Center are very experienced and we know
how to put our patients at ease.
Other people worry about pain and
inconvenience. At Cayuga Medical Center and Surgicare, we perform colonoscopies
under moderate sedation, which puts patients in a dream-like state. Pain
control is closely monitored and adjusted to the comfort level of each
individual. The actual examination typically takes fifteen to thirty minutes
and recovery from sedation takes about two hours, which is a pretty minor
inconvenience for a clean bill of health.
cannot afford the screening, because they lack health insurance or their policy
does not cover colonoscopy, may be eligible for assistance through the Health
Living Partnership of Tompkins County. To find out more, call (607) 274-4500.
Mary George, a registered nurse certified in gastroenterology and Rachel
Ayers, a registered nurse, are on staff in the Endoscopy Department at Cayuga
Medical Center. If you have questions or would like to receive information
about colorectal cancer screening, they can be reached at 274-4192.