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Health News: Sixty Percent Ignore Advice On Colonoscopy

Potentially life-saving screening offers important information.

Sponsored By:

Sheila R. Veloz

Close to 50,000 Americans died last year of colon cancer, a number that doctors at Providence Health Systems say would surely drop if screening became routine for patients in middle-age. Estimates say just 40 percent of people in that age group undergo the procedure.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, established by the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation to encourage people to learn more about how to reduce their risk for the disease through healthy lifestyles and regular screening tests.

At age 50, men and women should begin routine colonoscopy, earlier if they face risk factors such as family history, said Mary Clark, a nurse in the gastroenterology lab at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center.

But high unemployment – and subsequent loss of medical insurance – have cut the numbers undergoing elective procedures, including colonoscopy, said Gastroenterologist Henry A. Fisher, M.D., on staff at Providence Saint Joseph.

In 2008, 150,000 people were diagnosed with colon cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Colonoscopies detect abnormalities in 20 to 40 percent of those who do get tested, bolstering the argument for routine screening even in these tough economic times.

The preparation for the colonoscopy – clearing the bowels the day before – is usually the most uncomfortable part of the process but, with sedation as needed, most patients handle the test itself reasonably well, said Raul Mena, M.D., director of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center’s Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center.         

A number of colorectal cancer clinical trials are ongoing at Providence Saint Joseph. For information on current trials, contact the Providence Clinical Research Department at (818) 847-3220. 


More colon cancer facts:

3rd most common cancer

2nd leading cause of cancer deaths

90 percent of colon cancers occur over age 50

75 percent of colon cancers occur in people without medical risk

5 year survival rate:

  • 91% - when found in the early stages/localized
  • 66% - when cancer has spread to surrounding tissue
  • 8.5% - when cancer has spread to distant parts of the body

Colon cancer is one of the most treatable cancers

Source: American Cancer Society