One Type of Cancer Screening Does More than Detect, It Actually Prevents Disease

Sep 4, 2014

Colorectal cancer might be the easiest to prevent and detect -- if people get needed screening.

  One fairly common type of cancer here in Central New York has a real barrier to detection…but it’s also one of the easiest to prevent.  We wrap up our series on cancer screening and prevention today.

Many people as they approach age 50 are downright terrified of five little syllables.

“A lot of people are all scared,” says Onondaga County Public Health Educator Emily Young. “I don’t want to get it done; I don’t want to have the dreaded colonoscopy.”

Emily Young hears it all the time.  It’s the test that finds the precursors of colorectal cancer.  The colonoscopy can locate polyps before they ever get serious.

“Those polyps, they’re starting out as non-cancerous tissue growths.  Over time they can develop into cancer, so if you’re getting your colonoscopy, you’re getting screened, they’re seeing the polyps and they’re removing them at the same time.  So you’re eliminating that risk.”

There are also home tests where someone can have a stool sample evaluated...though Young says if something is found, then a colonoscopy is needed to actually diagnose the cause.  Not that there are good thing about any cancer, but Colorectal cancer also can have warning signs that can lead to early detection and successful treatment.

“Blood in the stool is a big one; black, tarry stool, big changes in your bowel habits that are prolonged, those are the big ones. Also penciling of the stool is a big one, that people don’t know about.  The stool is difficult to pass and it comes out very thin.”

Colorectal cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the colon or rectum divide uncontrollably, ultimately forming a malignant tumor.
Credit Cancer.org

  Any of these things, Young says, should lead to a checkup, more often than the normal advice to get screened starting at age 50.  She also clears up the misconception that colorectal cancer strikes men mostly...in fact it’s as common in men and women.  Further, there’s a hereditary link if a parent or sibling has had polyps found or cancer discovered.  But Young’s biggest task is educating people to get over the fear of the test.

“I always tell people it’s a short time period of discomfort and doing the prep. But to think about it as possibly preventing cancer, if you can wrap your mind around that part of it, that should be enough encouragement to get it done.”

Onondaga County Health screenings can be found through the website  ONGOV.net/health.  And we’ll have a link on our website, WAER.org.