Lahey Clinic urges screenings for colorectal cancer, a curable disease

Release Date: 03/01/2009

Margie Coloian
Communications and Marketing
Phone: (781) 744-3859

Lahey Clinic urges screenings for colorectal cancer, a curable disease

BURLINGTON, MA—Any time is a good time to book an appointment for a colorectal screening, urge clinicians at Lahey Clinic. But in March we observe Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time we focus greater attention on the disease that is largely preventable and curable if caught early.

With eight colorectal surgeons on staff—the most of any hospital in New England--and with 18 gastroenterologists, Lahey Clinic last year performed more than 11,000 colonoscopies, the simple examination that can reveal pre-cancerous polyps, which then are promptly excised.

“Unlike other diseases where tests serve as early detection, screening for colon cancer can actually prevent colon cancer,” says Patricia L. Roberts, MD, chair, Department of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Lahey.

Most colorectal cancers arise in polyps, benign growth inside the colon or rectum, and not only can screening find polyps before they become cancerous, but also can detect cancer at its earliest stage, when it is most treatable.

Other screening procedures are also used for diagnosing colorectal cancer. These include flexible sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema and fecal occult blood testing. The American Cancer Society recently added DNA-based stool testing and virtual colonoscopy to the list of options.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States; more than 56,000 will die from the disease each year. Because there are often no symptoms as this cancer develops, detection is key.

“If colorectal cancer is found and treated at an early stage before symptoms occur, the opportunity to cure is better than 80 percent.”

Beginning at age 50, colorectal cancer screening should be part of routine health care for all. For those at increased risk-- patients with a family history of cancer in a first-degree relative, a personal history of colon cancer or neoplastic polyps, or longstanding chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease--screenings should begin sooner and be performed more frequently. The Hereditary Colon and Rectal Cancer Registry, established at Lahey 10 years ago, helps guide patients and their families on the risks of colorectal cancer and various related syndromes and counsels patients on genetic testing.

In addition, Dr. Roberts recommends to lower the risk of getting colorectal cancer, avoid foods high in fat, eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and other high-fiber foods, exercise regularly, and don't smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

Lahey Clinic colorectal surgeons are currently involved in several research projects, paving the way to less invasive procedures and newer treatments for the cancer.

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About Lahey Clinic
Lahey Clinic, a physician-led, nonprofit group practice, is world-renowned for innovative technology, pioneering medical treatment, and leading-edge research. A teaching hospital of Tufts University School of Medicine, the Clinic provides quality health care in virtually every specialty and subspecialty, from primary care to cancer diagnosis and treatment to kidney and liver transplantation.