HHC doctors removed pre-cancerous polyps from 4,331 patients last year, proving once again that a colonoscopy is the best way to prevent colon cancer. More than 21,000 colonoscopies were performed across all of the city's 11 public hospitals, and the pre-cancerous polyps -- abnormal growths in the colon or rectum -- were found in about 20 percent of the cases. Doctors also removed cancerous polyps from 338 patients, underscoring the life-saving potential of the colon cancer test.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and a time when HHC steps up promoting the value of colon cancer screening. Colonoscopies are available year-round at all 11 public hospitals at little or no cost.
"Unlike some cancers, colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable," said HHC President Alan D. Aviles. "Since we began our annual campaign in 2003, the number of colonoscopies provided by HHC doctors every year has nearly tripled. Our goal is to make this screening test a routine part of healthcare for all New Yorkers over the age of 50. It is important for all of us to remind our family, friends and other New Yorkers about the importance of early screening to prevent colon cancer."
Dr. Susan Williams, Chief of Gastroenterology at Metropolitan Hospital, said the biggest obstacle to people getting a colonoscopy is "fear of the unknown." To ease that fear, she said, medical professionals are prepared to help HHC's diverse patient population learn what to expect. "HHC has people who can explain the process from beginning to end in the patient's own language."
Men and women over age 50 should have a colorectal screening at least once every 10 years. Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer should speak with their healthcare provider about starting the screening test earlier.
In the case of African Americans, for example, Dr. Williams recommends that patients get a colonoscopy starting at 45, because African Americans have a higher incidence of colon cancer, they get it younger and the disease may progress more quickly.
Dr. Williams said things we can do year-round to have a healthy colon include eating a high fiber diet and limiting fat intake.
According to the NYC Department of Health, more and more New Yorkers are getting screened for colon cancer each year, and fewer New Yorkers are dying from the disease. Screening is up 57% since 2003, and deaths from colorectal cancer have fallen by 13% during the same period.
During March, screenings will also be offered at the private hospitals on Staten Island, Richmond University Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital, thanks to funding from HHC. New Yorkers can call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov/hhc to find a screening location or learn more about preventing colon cancer.