MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States in both men and women. West Virginia is among the states with the highest colorectal cancer incidence and death rates.  

As national Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end, WVU Healthcare physicians are stressing the importance of screening to prevent and detect colorectal cancer early.

Colorectal cancer occurs mostly in people 50 and older, but only about half of them get screened. “Two mistakes many people make are that they ignore standard screening guidelines, and they ignore symptoms associated with colorectal cancer, such as bleeding,” Sobha Kurian, M.D., a hematology/oncology physician at WVU's Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, said.

One of Dr. Kurian’s patients, Linda Slaton of Grafton, wishes she would have practiced regular screenings and not have ignored her symptoms. Two years ago Slaton, who’s 56, had excessive bleeding and went to the emergency room at her local hospital. She had her first colonoscopy, which indicated that she had stage-III colorectal cancer.  

“One month later I had surgery, then chemo. It all happened so fast. I’m doing fantastic now, but I should have had a colonoscopy a long time ago,” said Slaton, whose father died of cancer. “I would encourage anyone with a family history of cancer to have a colonoscopy. It’s something I preach to all my family members and friends. It saved my life.”

The general consensus of healthcare professionals is that most adults should get screened for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50. However, people with a family history of colon cancer and others considered high-risk should be screened at age 40 or 10 years before the earliest diagnosis of colorectal cancer in a family member.

There are various tests for colon cancer, but colonoscopy is considered the gold standard in screening tools.

“Screening colonoscopy allows us to find patients who have precancerous polyps or abnormal growths before cancer develops and remove the polyps to actually prevent cancer,” Karen Fitzpatrick, M.D., physician at WVU’s Clark K. Sleeth Family Medicine Center, said. “Colonoscopy also allows us to identify patients who have a tendency to form polyps and therefore higher risk of developing cancer so we can watch them more closely.”

The American College of Physicians recommends that most people should get a colonoscopy once every 10 years, and those who want other testing options should discuss them with their primary care physician.  

The American Cancer Society estimates more than 143,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and nearly 52,000 will die from the disease.

For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
ss: 03-22-12