April 4, 2006 – March was colorectal cancer month, but V.I. medical professionals want residents to always pay attention when it comes to this and other types of cancer.
Dr. Derrick Grant, research director at Schneider Regional Medical Center's Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute, said that prevention is always the focus.
"One of the major goals is to educate," he said.
Grant said that practicing good nutrition, exercising, quitting smoking, and monitoring your body will go a long way toward preventing cancer.
Grant said that smoking affects the entire body, not just the lungs, and can cause mouth, head and neck cancers. Chewing tobacco can cause the same problems.
While there are no colorectal cancer statistics for the Virgin Islands, Grant said that across the United States 150,000 new colorectal cases are expected in 2006. A total of 55,000 people in the United States each year are expected to die from this type of cancer.
"Bleeding in the stool is highly suggestive of polyps or cancer," Grant said, adding that people with a family history of this disease or polyps in their colon are at higher risk for colorectal cancer.
To help prevent polyps, Grant suggested eating a high-fiber diet, green leafy vegetables and getting regular exercise.
"Being sedentary causes the bowels not to move properly," he said.
In information provided by Schneider Regional, St. Thomas gastroenterologist Dr. Lawrence Goldman said that across the United States the number of colonoscopy screenings jumped by almost 20 percent after "Today" show host Katie Couric in 2001 had her colonoscopy broadcast on national television. However, he said statistics show that testing has since leveled off.
Goldman said that three out of four Americans age 50 to 70 are not screened regularly for colon cancer despite the fact that it's the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. He said that one-third of those newly diagnosed will die mainly because they failed to get screened.
He said that colorectal cancer is curable 90 percent of the time with early detection. He said that screening can also detect pre-cancerous growths in the colon and rectum, which can be removed before they develop into cancers. Goldman said even people with no symptoms should be screened.
Helen Goldman, a nurse in Dr. Goldman's office, said colonoscopies are recommended for black people over 45 and whites over 50. She explained that the incidences for blacks begin to rise at an earlier age.
She said that most insurance plans cover colonoscopies, but people with no insurance will pay about $2,000.
She said that if the test is negative, people can wait another 10 years before the next one.
She also recommends the fecal occult blood test, which patients can do at home, every year for people over those ages.
Goldman's office sells the test kits for $10. His office is located in the Paragon Medical Building behind Schneider Regional.
In the United States, lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer, with 162,000 people out of the 175,000 people who will develop the disease expected to die.
"When people get it, it's likely they're going to be dead. It's very deadly," Grant said.
Grant said that over 200,000 women in the United States will get breast cancer this year, with about 41,000 breast cancer patients dying.
And Grant said about 1 to 2 percent of all breast cancer cases happen in men, mainly due to hormonal changes. He said that men who drink heavily often get this disease because the liver damage that comes with alcoholism prevents the liver from metabolizing hormones.
"Everyone should do a breast self-exam – men included," he said.
For women over 50, Grant called for an examination by a doctor every three years and a yearly mammogram.
He said that prostate cancer is the leading cancer in men, particularly among black men.
"Studies show that in the Caribbean, African-American men have the highest incidence of prostate cancer," Grant said.
He said that studies show that black men tend to ignore their prostate and don't seek health care.
Grant recommended an annual PSA blood test and digital rectal exams for black men over 45 and white men over 50.
Black and white men over 40 need to have both exams if they have a family history of the disease.
He said that of the 230,000 new cases expected this year, about 30,000 men are expected to die.
Grant said that stress is a big factor in prostate cancer.
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