Many in WNY Missing the Message on Colon Cancer

March 6, 2012 Updated Mar 6, 2012 at 12:47 PM EDT

By WKBW News


Many in WNY Missing the Message on Colon Cancer

March 6, 2012 Updated Mar 6, 2012 at 12:47 PM EDT

Amherst, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- Western New Yorkers may be “Missing the Message’ on colon cancer.

The American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey on Tuesday released Missing the Message: A Report on Colon Cancer Detection in New York 2012.

The report shows that the percentage of colon cancers diagnosed at later stages, when there are fewer treatment options, has increased in three local counties. This bucks a statewide trend showing overall fewer New Yorkers are presenting with later stage colon cancer and more people age 50 and older are getting recommended screenings.  Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus Counties are among only 17 New York Counties where increases in later stage diagnosis were observed.

The new report features an analysis of New York State Cancer Registry data. Over all New York saw a 6.1% drop in later stage colon cancer diagnoses between the 1990’s and 2000’s. During the same time frame Erie County saw a 7.9% increase in later stage diagnoses. Niagara County had an 11.7% increase and Cattaraugus County posted a 16.2% increase. All other local counties saw a drop in later stage diagnosis during the same time period.

“What this tells us is loud and clear,” said Gretchen Leffler, regional vice president of the American Cancer Society in Western New York. “We need more people to understand and act on the message that early detection of colon cancer can save lives. People need to get screened and we’re committed to helping Western New Yorkers do just that.”

The report also showed 56.5% of colon cancers statewide were found at later stages when there are fewer treatment options and survival rates are lower. Data examined in the report is from 2004-2008. This marks an improvement from the 60.2 percent diagnosed at a later stage revealed in the previous report from 2008 (for the time period 1994-1998).

All but two local counties had a percentage of later stage diagnosis below the state’s average of 56.5%. Genesee County had the highest percentage locally with 64% of colon cancers being found at later stages. Cattaraugus was also above the state average with 60.2%. Counties with percentages below the state averages included Erie at 54.4%, Niagara at 52.6%, Chautauqua at 54.7%, Orleans at 49.2%, Wyoming at 48.6% and Allegheny with 56.1%.

“There’s no single answer here,” added Leffler. “We know population size can play a role for some of the numbers, but so can things like poverty, a lack of transportation to testing and especially a lack of health insurance. Unfortunately, many people without health coverage don’t get regular checkups and therefore aren’t urged to get tested for colon cancer.”

New York showed a significant gain in the number of residents being screened for colon cancer. In 2010, 70 percent of those over 50 reported having had a recommended colon cancer screening as outlined by American Cancer Society screening guidelines, up dramatically from 56 percent in 2004.

“We’re making progress, but as long as people are dying from colon cancer, there’s room for improvement,” Leffler said. “We know colon cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented through screening, and if not prevented, detecting colon cancer early greatly increases survival rates.”

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2010 nearly 2.9 million New Yorkers lacked health insurance. Of adults 50-64 years of age without health insurance, 38 percent received fecal occult blood tests or sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy tests as recommended in the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines. The American Cancer Society has made access to health care and improving coverage for colon cancer screening a high priority, working with both the federal and state government and private insurers to increase the availability of testing.

New York lawmakers can help the uninsured by funding the NYS Cancer Services Program (CSP) at the level advanced by Gov. Cuomo.  The CSP offers free colorectal, cervical and breast cancer screenings for the uninsured and underinsured. Also, under the Colon Treatment Act, anyone diagnosed with colon cancer through the CSP automatically qualifies for Medicaid assistance, removing fear about paying for treatment as a barrier to screening.

In 2012, the American Cancer Society estimates 9,300 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in New York State and about 3,090 will die of the disease.  

The risk for colon cancer increases with age with more than 90 percent of all cases diagnosed in individuals aged 50 years and older.  Screening can result in the detection and removal of polyps before they become cancerous as well as the detection of cancer that is at an early, more treatable stage.

When colon cancer is detected at an early, localized stage the 5-year survival rate is 90 percent.  After cancer has spread regionally to involve adjacent organs or lymph nodes, the survival rate drops to 68 percent. For persons with distant metastases the 5-year survival rate is 10 percent.

American Cancer Society colon cancer screening guidelines:

Beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should use one of the screening tests below:

Tests that find polyps and cancer

•    Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*

•    Colonoscopy every 10 years

•    Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*

•    CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years*

Tests that mainly find cancer

•    Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year*,**

•    Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year*,**

•    Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain*