March is the month of basketball “madness,” St. Patrick, and St. Baldrick – the eponymous saint of bald heads to raise awareness for children’s cancer. Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, though, is opting to recognize March as Colon Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there were an estimated 135,430 new cases and 50,260 deaths from colorectal cancer in 2017. Although the rate has been on a slow decline since the eighties, it still impacts thousands of Americans each year.
As with many other cancers, knowledge of symptoms and risk factors, as well as routine screenings, are important in the disease’s prevention. Survival statistics provided by the NIH estimate a survival rate of 64.9 percent for five years or more, but this rate increases significantly to 89.9 percent when the cancer is localized (which is often the case in the early stages).
By highlighting colorectal cancer this month, the hospital aims to encourage people to talk to their doctors and get screened. According to the hospital and studies it cites, 60 percent of cases can be prevented with a colonoscopy. This procedure can identify the existence of any precancerous growths years before symptoms occur.
Risk factors include having a family history of colon cancer, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, a diet rich in red meat and low in calcium, folate and fiber, and being over the age of 50. Some of these risk factors are in the person’s control, and can be avoided by sustaining a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables with minimal red meat.
“It is important for patients to focus on health rather than on disease and illness. They should go to the doctor to stay well–not just to get well,” said Steve Georgopoulos, MD, a Gastroenterologist at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
“Getting a colonoscopy is part of that equation. It’s proven to prevent colon cancer and reduce mortality before one gets sick,” said Dr. Georgopoulous. By educating oneself about risks, symptoms, and prevention of colorectal cancer, one will know when to get screened and ways in which he/she can minimize risk through diet, exercise, and taking a proactive approach towards one’s health.