Saving Lives is Goal of Bolivar Medical Center's Cancer Campaign


Cleveland, MS – Colorectal cancer continues to be the second leading cancer killer for both men and women combined in the United States, even though it is 90 percent preventable and 90 percent treatable when detected early.

These figures are of great concern to care providers at Bolivar Medical Center, including Dr. Bennie Wright, General Surgeon and Dr. Roger Blake, general surgeons who are the two physicians who perform colonoscopies at the hospital.

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"We know that fewer than 50 percent of adults age 50 or older have had one of the readily available colorectal cancer screening tests within the recommended time periods," he said.

"When detected at an early, localized stage, colorectal cancers are nearly 100% curable; however, only 39% of these cancers are diagnosed at this stage, mostly due to low rates of screening."

"Our physicians are telling us that we can save more lives, and we're going to focus on doing just that - by educating the public about colorectal cancer and the screening tests that are available," said Bolivar Medical's Wes Sigler, CEO.   "We want to take advantage of March, which is ‘Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month'; to make sure everyone in the communities we serve knows when they should be screened.  Most people do not realize that you can actually prevent colon cancer, in many cases, by simply having a colonoscopy."

Colorectal cancer, which includes cancers of the colon and/or rectum, is equally common in both men and women. The American Cancer Society estimated that last year (2008) there were 148,810 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed and that 49,960 people died from the disease. It is also one of the most easily prevented cancers because it can develop from polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous.

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More than 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer are over the age of 50. Many insurance plans, including Medicare, help pay for colorectal cancer screening.

Polyps and colorectal cancer may not cause symptoms, especially at first.  And, like many cancers, the development of colorectal cancer can take many years which is why screening is such an important tool.  Regular screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.  And screening tests can help discover cancer in its earliest, most curable stages.

"We've come so far in recent years," Dr. Wright said.  "In fact the incidence rates for colorectal cancer have been decreasing for the last two decades specifically because of the increase in people having screening tests.  But it's still not enough. Researchers estimate that if everyone age 50 or older received regular colorectal cancer screenings, at least one-third of the deaths would be prevented. "

How Screenings Save Lives

Experts are not in total agreement on which screening tests should be used or how often adults without known risk factors should be tested, but there is agreement on one test. "Considering all of the available literature and research, conventional colonoscopy remains the clear gold standard for the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. It allows the physician to examine the entire length of the colon, and to remove pre-cancerous polyps during the same procedure. Anyone who is 50 years of age should have a colonoscopy."

During a colonoscopy, a physician uses a slender, flexible, lighted instrument called a colonoscope to look at the inside walls of the full length of the color. If abnormalities are found, they can be removed or biopsied during the same procedure.

"Colon cancer is responsible for 10-11% of all cancer deaths. One out of every three people who develop colon cancer will die from it; most commonly because it is diagnosed at a late stage. Colonoscopies help to prevent these deaths."

Other screening tools that are currently used include:

  • Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT): The most common and inexpensive screening test, the FOBT involves having an individual check his own stool for hidden (occult) blood with a special kit available from a pharmacy or provided by a physician. A positive test must be followed up by a colonoscopy. FOBT alone is considered an inferior screening method and, if at all possible, patients should combine it with flexible sigmoidoscopy or should opt for one of the options that will examine the entire large intestine. Recent research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association by the Mayo Clinic, showed FOBT tests to be about 70% ineffective in tracking the onset of colorectal cancer.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Using a slender, flexible lighted tube, the physician looks inside the rectum and the lower portion of the colon. If polyps or suspicious lesions are found, the test must be followed up by a full colon exam by colonoscopy. This test has been demonstrated to be highly accurate in the lower third of the colon; however, cancers arising in the upper colon may go undetected.
  • Double Contract Barium Enema X-Ray: After the person being examined has been given an enema containing a white dye called barium, the physician takes x-rays of the colon. A positive test is followed up with a colonoscopy. However, smaller cancers and precancerous lesions may go unnoticed because radiology creates a "contrast" picture, rather than directly visualizing the colon.
  • Virtual Colonoscopy: Virtual colonoscopy is a test that combines a CAT (Computer Assisted Tomography) scanner and sophisticated image processing computers that actually recreate a 3D image of the inner surface of the colon for examination by a radiologist. While the virtual colonoscopy does offer the potential to enhance the acceptability of colorectal cancer screening to some people, it has not yet been endorsed by any multidisciplinary guideline group as an effective colorectal cancer screening strategy.  Further, at least 30 percent of patients having this test will need to have conventional colonoscopy done later to remove polyps 6mm or larger. Virtual colonoscopy is a diagnosis-only test, whereas conventional colonoscopy allows for both diagnosis and treatment in a single session.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

  • The most common symptom is no symptom
  • Change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, narrow stools)
  • Unexplained weight loss, vomiting, lack of energy, unexplained anemia
  • Blood (often not visible) in stool or from rectum
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort (gas, bloating, cramps, feeling that bowel does not empty)
In spite of all the screening tests that are available, unfortunately, overall screening rates remain low. In a recent survey of Americans over age 50 conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 40% reported that they had ever had an FOBT and only 42% reported that they had ever had a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This compares to 85% of women who had been screened for breast cancer.

"Colonoscopy is at least as important as mammography," Dr. Blake explains. "Since colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, we could prevent great suffering if more people would take advantage of screenings that are available."

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