WVU Physicians Stress Importance of Colorectal Screening

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—Even though more Americans are getting screened for colorectal cancer than ever before, experts say the rates still aren’t high enough, and colorectal cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.  A national phone survey indicates that in 2002 nearly 53 percent of Americans 50 and older have had a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy at some point in time, while less than half of West Virginians had one or the other type of screening.

Physicians at West Virginia University hope that people will start to realize how important screening is.  Sobha Kurian, M.D., a hematologist oncologist at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, is strongly urging people 50 and older to be screened.  “I want people to know that colorectal cancer is so curable, if caught early.” 

“A screening tests for the presence of polyps. While most are non-cancerous growths, they need to be removed since colorectal cancer develops in certain polyps.  Polyps can be removed during the screening procedure before they become malignant.  The other advantage of regular screening is that it can detect cancer at earlier stages, when the disease is more curable.”

In fact, 90 percent of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer can be cured provided they are diagnosed and treated before the cancer spreads beyond the colon.  However, 65 percent are diagnosed at the more advanced stage and only 50 percent are cured.

Forty-five year old Brenda Holland of Morgantown, one of Dr. Kurian’s patients, believes in the importance of screening.  About a year-and-a-half ago, a colonoscopy revealed that she had early stage colon cancer. Holland had surgery to remove the cancer and has no signs of the disease now.  “I urge everyone now to always go for a colonoscopy,” says Holland. “It saved my life.”

A colonoscopy is the most sensitive test currently available to detect abnormalities of the colon and rectum. A colonoscopy is performed by a doctor or other specially trained health care professional. This test examines the inside of the colon and rectum by using a thin, lighted tube inserted into the rectum.  If abnormal areas are seen, tissue can be removed and examined under a microscope to determine whether disease is present. “I understand that some people may be reluctantto have this test, because they have heard it’s uncomfortable, says Kurian. “But, it can save their life.”

Another type of screening tool, a flexible sigmoidoscopy, screens the lower portion of the colon where most cancers occur. “People could at least opt for this test, if they don’t want a colonoscopy.”

Besides says Kurian, after the initial screening, you don’t need to schedule another one until three or five years later, if your doctor gives you a clean bill of health.  People at high risk of developing colorectal cancer should be screened more frequently.

Other recommended screening methods used to detect colorectal cancer early include fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and double contrast barium enema.

Kurian says there are some more comfortable techniques on the horizon.  One is called a virtual colonoscopy and involves x-rays and computers that produce two-and-three dimensional images of the colon (large intestine) all the way to the lower end of the small intestine and display them on a screen.

Kurian says people don’t have to see a cancer doctor to be screened.  “Discuss this with your family physician,” she says.  “He or she is the first linkin the chain of prevention.”

She adds that if you have multiple family members who were diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age or had multiple polyps, there is a blood test available to check to see if you are at risk for a hereditary type of colon cancer.  The Cancer Center offers genetic counseling and teaching for people who are concerned about that possibility.  “This is important because colon cancer can develop at a younger age in these individuals,” says Kurian.

The Cancer Prevention and Control of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program spearheads the WV Colorectal Cancer Initiative, to promote colorectal cancer screening in the Mountain State.  This effort is funded by a cooperative agreement between the WV DHHR’s Comprehensive Cancer Control Program and the CDC.  These state partners, all members of Mountains of Hope: WV’s Comprehensive Cancer Coalition, have Since 2003 they’ve convened held  three statewide summits to  explore ways to increase discover solutions for increasing WWest Virginia’s colorectal cancer screening rate.  At During this year’s June upcoming summit, to be held June 9-10 in Morgantown, they’ll work with selected primary care providers and community advocacy groups to identify waysconsider how clinicians may change their practice office systems and policies to do more than just recommendfacilitate and encourage  local colorectal screening activitiess.  The use of One idea  under consideration is to have the providers reminder systems, for both clinicians and patients will be one of the topics under discussion.conduct follow-up phone calls to patients.

- WVU -

For more information:
Sherry Stoneking, Cancer Center (304) 293-4599

Return To News Releases