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Prevention is the best medicine

Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest type of cancer, but also one of the most preventable.

Health Matters

As we age, our bodies begin to need more attention. We are encouraged to get our eyes checked more regularly, to monitor our cholesterol more closely, and to take supplements to strengthen our bones. These measures seem relatively easy compared with the one many of us dread most — scheduling a colonoscopy.

Boston Medical Center hopes to ease some of the anxiety surrounding the procedure and to raise awareness of the dangers of undetected colorectal cancer. As part of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, BMC is hosting three lectures at the Medical Campus on colon cancer screening.

BMC gastroenterologists will detail how the screening is done, distribute information on the process, and encourage those over 50 to be screened for colorectal cancer on Friday, March 3, and Wednesday, March 29, in the Dowling Amphitheater, and on Wednesday, March 15, in Keefer Auditorium, all from noon to 1 p.m.

According to the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation, colorectal cancer, cancer of the colon or rectum, is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for men and women combined. They estimate that approximately 148,610 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2006 and 55,170 people will die from the disease.

Despite these grim statistics, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer and is highly curable when detected early, says Francis Farraye, clinical director of the gastroenterology department, codirector of the Center for Digestive Disorders at BMC, and a School of Medicine associate professor.

The most important way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened starting at age 50, he says, although those with a family history of the disease should begin screening earlier.

The majority of colon cancers develop from benign polyps over the course of several years. When detected through screening, these polyps can be removed, preventing the cancer from developing. The Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation states that approximately 90 percent of colorectal cancers and deaths are thought to be preventable.

Recommended testing includes a colonoscopy, which can detect polyps, every 10 years; a sigmoidoscopy, which examines the lining of the rectum and a part of the colon, every 5 years; and a stool test for blood every year. 

“Through regular screening and simple living habits, such as not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising,” Farraye says, “we can significantly reduce the number of cases of colorectal cancer.”

For more information about the lectures, call 617-414-7539. To learn more about colorectal cancer, click here to read the most frequently asked questions about prevention, risks, and symptoms of colorectal cancer.