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Initiative to boost screenings seeking to reduce colon cancer deaths

National initiative pushes colonoscopy cancer screenings

Tom Fezzey said his first colonoscopy just before Christmas last year was no big deal – and the results showed he did not have cancer.

“They found one benign polyp and cut it out,” said Fezzey, 63, a Sugar Grove resident. “And then the doctor instructed me to come back in five years. That was it. Theoretically, I’ll live a longer and better life – and not have to go with a colostomy bag.”

Fezzey’s results were good news. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women and the third most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Because screening by colonoscopy is the most important tool in looking for cancer and catching it early, a national initiative called “80 percent by 2018” seeks to have 80 percent of U.S. adults age 50 and older to be screened regularly for colorectal cancer by 2018. One or two of every 100 men age 60 years old today will get colorectal cancer by the age of 70, according to the CDC.

A colonoscopy is a screening for colorectal cancer that involves a preparation day of no food – except clear liquids and Jell-O – and drinking a liquid colon cleanser. The next day, a gastroenterologist guides a scope through the rectum and colon to look for polyps, cancer and other disorders of the bowel.

“It was a very powerful laxative with a slight lemony flavor,” Fezzey said of the colon cleanser. “I drank a liter over a period of 45 minutes at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. I think I handled it well. I didn’t see it as a big problem. The preparation was the worst part, but it was not particularly unpleasant. The rest of it was piece of cake. It was not so terrible.”

The American Cancer Society, the CDC and the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable – an organization co-founded by cancer society and CDC, are leading the campaign. The campaign began in March 2014 during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

“If you are turning age 50 this year, talk to your doctor about getting screened for colorectal cancer,” Dr. Lisa Richardson, director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control wrote in an email. “Colorectal cancer screening tests can find cancer early when treatment is more effective and can find abnormal growths in the colon and rectum, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.”

One in three adults between 50 and 75 – about 23 million people – are not getting screened as recommended, according to a press release from the campaign. This year, 137,000 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer and another 50,310 will die from it, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society

Geneva gastroenterologist Dr. Tarun Mullick, who belongs to the American Gastroenterology Association, said waiting for symptoms of colon cancer means it’s too late.

“Our absolute emphasis is on screening,” Mullick said. “We are missing about 50 percent of people who should be screened right now. I want everyone in the U.S. to get screened. I think it really saves lives.”

Mullick said as part of his office’s community awareness campaign, he speaks to groups such as the Kiwanis, the Rotary and at various churches. Mullick said his office does a big push during March, which is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, with blue ribbons and pins and outreach.

“I want to try to drive down colon cancer, and one of the tests we do is this. It’s very important,” Mullick said of the colonoscopy. “It’s one of those gratifying things, to prevent a colon cancer rather than give a diagnosis.”

While Delnor Hospital in Geneva, part of Northwestern Medicine, is not part of the initiative, practice manager Amy Eimerman said the gastroenterologist physician group also does its own promotions for colonoscopy screenings.

“It breaks the unease about colonoscopy, [which is] rooted in fear,” Eimerman said. “We help people get over that, coaching people through it.”

The recommendation is to get a first colonoscopy screening at age 50, but Fezzey, an attorney with a solo practice in Wheaton, said he waited because of his insurance.

“I would have been required to meet the deductible out of my own pocket,” Fezzey said. “Now that the Affordable Care Act pays for preventative screenings at 100 percent – without a deductible – it was a no-brainer.”

Fezzey said he supports the initiative to get more people screened through colonoscopy.

“I wish people understood how simple, painless, and how pleasant the whole procedure was,” Fezzey said. “I didn’t feel a thing. They treated me like royalty. It was a thoroughly pleasant experience from top to bottom.”

Know more

Colon cancer in the United States:

• 134,784 diagnosed; 51,516 died.

• 70,204 men diagnosed; 26,866 died.

• 64,580 women; 24,650 died.

Source: Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society.

To learn more about the subject, visit the following websites:

• National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable - www.nccrt.org.

• Colon Cancer Coalition - www.coloncancercoalition.org.

• National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - www.cdc.gov.

• American Cancer Society - www.cancer.org.

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