Health: Keeping your body clear of colon cancer

03/23/2014 11:00 AM |
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | (left to right) Town Councilman John Dunleavy, Maureen O'Connor, program director of the Cancer Services Program of Eastern Suffolk County at Peconic Bay Medical Center, Dr. Claire Bradley, board president of American Cancer Society Eastern Division, Dr. Brett Ruffo, colorectal and general surgeon at PBMC, Sherry Patterson, chair of PBMC Health foundation, Joseph Abbate, colorectal cancer survivor, Dennis McDermott, owner of The Riverhead Project, Legislator Al Krupski, Janine Nebons, general manager of Tanger Outlets, and town councilwoman Jodi Giglio.

(left to right) Town Councilman John Dunleavy; Maureen O’Connor, program director of the Cancer Services Program of Eastern Suffolk County at Peconic Bay Medical Center; Dr. Claire Bradley, board president of American Cancer Society Eastern Division; Dr. Brett Ruffo, colorectal and general surgeon at PBMC; Sherry Patterson, chair of PBMC Health foundation; Joseph Abbate, colorectal cancer survivor; Dennis McDermott, owner of The Riverhead Project; Legislator Al Krupski; Janine Nebons, general manager of Tanger Outlets and town councilwoman Jodi Giglio. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

What you put into your body must eventually go down and then come out, making a healthy colorectal tract indispensable. 

To help spread that message, the Cancer Services Program of Suffolk County and Peconic Bay Medical Center have teamed up with area businesses for their inaugural “Go Blue” campaign to raise awareness of the importance of screening for and early detection of colon cancer. Much like the well-known pink ribbon campaign promoting breast cancer awareness, the color blue is associated with colon cancer awareness.

March is colorectal cancer awareness month and colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, following lung and bronchial cancer. And though it’s preventable, treatable and beatable, only half of insured adults ages 50 to 75 are up-to-date with colon cancer screenings, according to the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Brett Ruffo, colorectal surgeon with PBMC, knows more than anyone the life or death difference waiting a few years to get screened can make.

His father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 54 and ultimately died because of his initial hesitation to get screened, Dr. Ruffo said.

Even patients with no family history of colorectal cancer should begin getting screened at age 50. But those who have a family history of the disease, like Dr. Ruffo, should begin screenings 10 years younger than the age at which their relative was first diagnosed, he said.

While various screening options for colorectal health exist, like stool tests and other in-office procedures, Dr. Ruffo said the commonly known (and often dreaded) colonoscopy is the best route to take.

Other options, Dr. Ruffo explained, may not uncover a problem until it’s reached an advanced stage — but some form of screening is better than none at all.

The colon and rectum are both part of the large intestine. Colorectal cancer occurs when tumors form on the large intestinal lining, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What many people don’t know about the colonoscopy procedure is that it’s diagnostic as well as therapeutic — and physicians will remove any growths.

Not all detected growths are cancerous, Dr. Ruffo said, and physicians remove them to test for signs of cancer.

“We want to get things as early as possible,” he said. “The earlier we can get to something and remove it, the better the outcome,” he said.

The procedure itself takes between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on whether any growths need to be removed.

“I am not going to say it’s a party,” Dr. Ruffo joked, “but it’s truly not terrible either. The anticipation and anxiety get to patients more than the actual procedure.”

Preparation is often more difficult, he admitted, since patients must drink a colon-clearing beverage to ensure that physicians can get a good, clean look at the intestinal lining. The better a patient preps, the more likely it is that any growth can be discovered and treated.

But patients shouldn’t wait until their 50s to begin paying attention to their colorectal health.

Anyone who notices bleeding or pain while going to the bathroom or experiences a change in a regular bowel habits, unexplained anemia or weight loss or the onset of lower abdominal pain should visit their physician, as these could be signs something is wrong with their intestines, said Dr. Dhiren Mehta, a gastroenterologist with Eastern Long Island Hospital.

For more information on colorectal cancer screening, call the Cancer Services Program of Suffolk County at 631-548-6320.

Miller_HeadshotGot a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at cmiller@timesreview.com. Follow her on twitter @carriemiller01.

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