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March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

New Britain [February 07 2007] - March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and physicians at the Hospital of Central Connecticut are urging the public to learn more about colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) and how it can be prevented or best treated.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Cancer Society estimates that 56,730 Americans died of colorectal cancer in 2005. Roughly 146,940 new cases were diagnosed in 2004, making it the third most common cancer in men and women.
While those are intimidating statistics, prevention and early detection can make a huge difference. Recent statistics released by the National Cancer Institute indicate a marked decrease in the incidence of deaths due to various cancers in the past 10 years, including colorectal.
“There is no doubt that screening has a lot to do with the decrease in the death rate,” says Dr. Maria C. Mirth, a colorectal surgeon affiliated with The Hospital of Central Connecticut. There are several types of screening methods, including a basic test that can be done at home. The conventional recommendation is that all adults 50 and over have regular screenings, and younger if one is in a higher risk category. But, according to a CDC study in 2000, only 42.5 percent of U.S. adults age 50 and over had colorectal cancer screening.
While those guidelines are correct, Dr. Mirth notes that all healthy people in their 40s should be “thinking about all kinds of screening” — colorectal, breast, prostate, and gynecologic.
“Colorectal cancer can be prevented through regular screenings, a healthy diet, and regular exercise,” says Dr. Christina Czyrko, who shares a practice with Dr. Mirth and was the first female colorectal surgeon in Connecticut when she opened her practice in 1992. “Unfortunately, embarrassment and social stigma can keep people from seeking help,” says Dr. Czyrko. That is where education comes in. “When we see a new patient, we preface things by saying that this is an important part of the body. Prevention is the key here, not unlike having mammograms or prostate screening. A lot of what we do is education, not just treatment.”
To lower your risk of colorectal cancer, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons has several recommendations. Get regular colorectal cancer screenings after age 50; 80-90 percent of colorectal cancer patients are restored to normal health if cancer is treated in the earliest stages. Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet; drink alcohol in moderation; and if you use tobacco, quit. Alcohol and tobacco in combination are linked to colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers. Exercise for at least 20 minutes three to four days each week. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening or climbing steps may help.
Dr. Christine Bartus, a colorectal surgeon with Connecticut Surgical Group, explains that since there are very few overt symptoms associated with colorectal cancer, regular screening is essential. Screening is beneficial for two main reasons: colorectal cancer is extremely preventable if polyps that lead to the cancer are detected and removed, and it is very curable if the cancer is detected in its early stages.
Colorectal cancer requires surgery in nearly all cases for complete cure, sometimes in conjunction with radiation and chemotherapy. The good news is that between 80 to 90 percent of patients are restored to normal health if the cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages. The cure rate drops to 50 percent or less when colorectal cancer is diagnosed in the later stages.
Current screening methods include fecal occult blood testing (a simple chemical test that can detect hidden blood in the stool), flexible sigmoidoscopy (a visual examination of the rectum and lower portion of the colon, performed in a doctor’s office), double contrast barium enema (barium x-ray), colonoscopy (a visual examination of the entire colon), and digital rectal exam. Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for current screening methods. Your healthcare provider will help you decide which screening procedure is right for you and how often you should be screened.
The three colorectal surgeons affiliated with the Hospital of Central Connecticut offer a complete range of services, along with individual expertise in colon and rectal surgery.
Office hours for Dr. Christine Bartus are by appointment at Connecticut Surgical Group, PC, 40 Hart Street, Building C, in New Britain; phone 860-229-8889.
Office hours for Dr. Christine Czyrko and Dr. Maria C. Mirth are by appointment at 40 Hart St, Building B in New Britain, and in the Apple Valley Plaza, 360 North Main Street, Southington; phone 860-826-3880.

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