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[March 15,2008]

SUNY Downstate Medical Center Fights Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is easy enough to detect and treat. It develops from polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous. Yet thousands of people die from it every year. This is a fight that physicians at SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s Digestive Disease Center have taken on for years.

Downstate recently organized a Saturday health fair, which featured a free colon cancer screening test at its Digestive Disease Center, a new, state-of-the-art outpatient facility.
Throughout the day, physicians provided blood pressure screenings, diabetes tests, and stool kits to people who came to check whether they are a candidate for a follow up colonoscopy.

Frank G. Gress, MD, chief of the Gastroenterology and Hepatology Division at Downstate, said that colorectal screening saves lives as shown in many studies. Dr. Gress added that the problem is getting the message out to people who are reluctant to have a colonoscopy for several reasons, such as the preparation that includes fasting for 24 hours and finding a good time for it.

“The health screening like we did on Saturday allows us the opportunity to educate the community about the benefits of getting screened for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Gress, who is also professor of medicine at Downstate.” The colonoscopy procedure is explained thoroughly to people who come plus there are many other supporting materials and staff that come from not only SUNY but also the American Cancer Society.”

According to experts, colonoscopy is especially important for people over 50 years old.  Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon and/or rectum. It is equally common in both men and women. It is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death for women and men combined in the U.S.—108,070 cases of colon cancer and 40,740 cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2008, and it is estimated nearly 50,000 people will die from the disease, accounting for 9% of all cancer deaths. 

It is also one of the most easily prevented cancers. Colorectal cancer is a disease that it often preventable through appropriate screening. Colonoscopy can catch and remove pre-cancerous polyps before they turn into colorectal cancer. And when colon cancer is detected at an early stage, it is curable in 90% of cases.  Current national guidelines recommend it mainly for people age 50 and over, who face the highest risk and should get checked every 10 years.

“We are committed to provide services to the community to promote health and wellness by prevention and early detection,” said Maria E. Yomtov, director of Downstate’s Center for Community Health Promotion and Wellness, “such as screening for colon cancer, as well as breast and prostate cancer. Other screenings and health education for diabetes, cardiac care, and asthma are done in many settings in the community.”