March 5, 2009— The Health Department and the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) today urged New Yorkers 50 and older not to skip a life-saving colon cancer screening because of a lack of health insurance. March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month—and though times are tough, free and low-cost screening is widely available in New York City. Unlike some cancers, colon cancer can be prevented and treated effectively with screening. Last year alone, more than 20,000 New Yorkers were screened at public hospitals, and more than 3,600 patients had a precancerous growth identified and removed.
"Colon cancer screening saves lives," said HHC President Alan D. Aviles. "Free or low-cost colonoscopy is available in every borough. Colonoscopy is also covered by most health insurance. If you're 50 or older, or belong to a higher-risk group, call 311 to find a screening location, and encourage friends and loved ones to do the same. If the test is clear, you won't have to have this test again for 10 years."
"Colonoscopy is the only cancer screening test that can remove abnormal growths before they have a chance to progress to cancer," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. "Everyone over age 50 should have a screening. It's especially important for people with a family history of colon cancer to speak with their health care provider about screening at age 40 or sooner."
Starting today, HHC and the Health Department are launching a month-long campaign including public service announcements in English and Spanish for local TV and radio, print ads, and mailings to community groups. The agencies will also distribute educational materials featuring legendary R&B vocalists Ashford & Simpson, Broadway star Chita Rivera, and subway hero Wesley Autrey, who had his first colonoscopy at Harlem Hospital. More than 1,300 posters are going up at hospitals and community clinics around the City.
During March, screenings will be offered at all 11 HHC hospitals, and on Staten Island in partnership with Richmond University Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital. Any New Yorker can call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov/hhc to find a screening location or learn more about preventing colon cancer.
More and more New Yorkers are getting screened for colon cancer, and fewer New Yorkers are dying from the disease. Screening is up 48% since 2003, with 62% of New Yorkers over 50 getting screened (compared with just 42% in 2003). Deaths from colon cancer have fallen by 16% during the same period—from 1,638 to 1,376.
Much of this progress is tied to the public hospitals' efforts. Nearly 112,000 colonoscopies have been performed in public hospitals since 2003, with precancerous growths removed from 17,461 patients. In 2003, the Health Department and HHC launched the Colonoscopy Patient Navigator program to boost screenings in predominantly Black and Latino, and Asian neighborhoods by helping patients navigate the process of colonoscopy screening and follow-up, if needed. Navigators are now in eight HHC hospitals and six voluntary hospitals. When patients are referred by their doctor for a colonoscopy, a Navigator explains why the procedure is so important, how to prepare for it, helps alleviate fears about the procedure by explaining what patients can expect, and reminds them just before their appointment.
As a result of these efforts, the percent of Black and Latino New Yorkers who said they'd had a colonoscopy increased from 36% to 64% between 2003 and 2007—completely eliminating what was once a significant racial gap in screening between these groups and white New Yorkers.
In addition, the Health Department launched the Citywide Colon Cancer Control Coalition, or C5, in 2003. The group fights colon cancer through advocacy and policy initiatives that bring together health and social service organizations, academic institutions, governmental agencies and advocacy groups. The Health Department will host the 5th annual C5 Summit on June 11, 2009, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Colon cancer still kills more than 1,400 New Yorkers each year. Besides identifying precancerous polyps - abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—colonoscopy screening can detect colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure.
To reduce your risk of colon cancer:
- Don't smoke.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables.