Colorectal Cancer: What to Know About Preventing It

“I DON’T WANT ANYONE ELSE TO GO THROUGH WHAT I DID.”

Grateful patient Shawn Leyden meets with his surgeon, Mark Gilder, MD.

“I regret not keeping my scheduled colonoscopy appointment,” says Shawn Leyden of Maplewood. “If I’d stuck with what my doctor told me to do, I might not have gotten colon cancer, or I at least could have avoided the need for a six-and-a-half-hour surgery,” he says (see sidebar at right).

Physicians at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) have a similar message.

“The three most important things you need to know about colorectal cancer are: screening, screening, screening,” says Delia Radovich, MD, a medical oncologist at SBMC.

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the rectum (the opening where the bowels empty) or colon (the lower part of the intestines). It’s the third-most-common type of cancer, after lung and breast cancer. But unlike those, it can often be prevented through screening.

TYPES OF SCREENING

Screening for colorectal cancer can be done by a fecal occult blood test or a DNA stool. Most often, however, it involves a colonoscopy—an examination of the entire colon through a thin, flexible tool with a camera at the end. Preparation requires one day of following a liquid diet and drinking a medicine that flushes out the intestines. The procedure itself takes about an hour.

The screening colonoscopy exam is important for two reasons, Dr. Radovich explains. First, during the procedure, the physician can remove any precancerous polyps (a type of growth in the intestine) before they turn into cancer. Second, cancer that is already present can be discovered.

“I diagnose one or two people with colorectal cancer every month,” says Robert Schuman, MD, a gastroenterologist at SBMC and a member of Barnabas Health Medical Group. “We’re only seeing about half the people who need screening. If everyone who needs screening had one, we could wipe out colorectal cancer.”

Prevention of colorectal cancer is the goal of the experts at SBMC. “We have the ‘A’ team when it comes to diagnosing and treating colorectal cancer,” says Dr. Schuman. “We each have access to our full team of specialists at a moment’s notice, so together we offer the best care available in a seamless fashion. I would trust my family to this team—and I have.”

Shawn Leyden agrees. “If you have to go through something like this,” he says, “Saint Barnabas is the place to be and has the people you want to be with.”

“I DON’T WANT ANYONE ELSE TO GO THROUGH WHAT I DID.”

A busy executive at the state’s largest electric and gas provider, Shawn Leyden, 63, was on an aggressive every-other-year colonoscopy schedule due to a family history of colon cancer. Four years ago, however, he missed a scheduled colonoscopy that might have caught his colon cancer earlier.

When he finally did have it, Mark Gilder, MD, his surgeon at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC), who is also a member of Barnabas Health Medical Group, found a large polyp. It was later removed with minimally invasive robotic surgery. “Dr. Gilder spent a lot of time with me and my wife, explaining everything that needed to be done,” Shawn says.

Though the surgery was a long one, Shawn recovered quickly, thanks to the Comprehensive Recovery Pathway, a “prehabilitation” program of intensive patient preparation that has significantly reduced SBMC colorectal surgery patients’ length of stay in the hospital. “He was able to comfortably leave the hospital after just 24 hours and begin his rehabilitation,” Dr. Gilder says.

Unfortunately, test results after surgery confirmed that the cancer had spread to a lymph node. Shawn and his wife met with medical oncologist Delia Radovich, MD. “She was incredibly empathetic and caring,” Shawn says. “Her dad had had colon cancer, and she absolutely knew what I was thinking.”

Through the testing, surgery and chemotherapy, Shawn has made many trips to SBMC. “Through all of this, I knew I couldn’t be in better hands,” he says.

Now, he’s been cancer-free for nearly three years and is telling his story in the hope that it will encourage others to get screened. “Compared to the surgery and other treatment, the prep needed for a colonoscopy is no big deal,” Shawn says. “I regret not keeping to my schedule, and I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did. It’s avoidable.”

WHO NEEDS SCREENING?

“Just last spring, the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended starting age for colonoscopies from 50 to 45,” says Raquel Wagman, MD, a radiation oncologist at SBMC. “The incidence of colorectal cancer is increasing dramatically in younger patients. And we have a variety of new ways to treat and even cure it— when we catch it early.” After age 45, people should be screened every 10 years.

Some people need screening at an earlier age or more often. Ask your doctor about your screening schedule if you:

• Have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer

• Have had polyps (growths in the intestines that can turn into cancer)

• Have a history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis

• Have had radiation therapy to the belly or pelvis

• Have a family history of other conditions, like Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

RWJBarnabas Health and Saint Barnabas Medical Center, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—brings a world-class team of researchers and specialists to fight alongside you, providing close-to-home access to the latest treatment and clinical trials.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. To make a screening appointment or learn more about the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center of New Jersey at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, call 973.322.9797 or visit our website.