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Meeting the Challenges to Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer deaths, but it's also one of the few cancers that can be prevented.

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Lynn Butterly, MD, has put together a new video full of practical tips for making the preparation for a colonoscopy as comfortable and easy as possible. It can be seen at the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program section.

According to the National Cancer Institute, while the exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown, research shows that age, the presence of small growths called polyps, family history of colorectal cancer, tobacco use, and conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease may all be factors that increase one's risk of developing colorectal cancer. The good news is that most colorectal cancers begin as polyps, a few of which may turn into cancer over a period of 5-10 years. Screening for colorectal cancer can catch and remove many of these polyps before they develop into cancer. If a cancer is already developing, then screening can catch it at an earlier, more treatable stage.

According to Lynn Butterly, MD, director of Colorectal Cancer Screening for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and medical director of the NH Colorectal Cancer Screening Program (NHCRCSP), "Very few people who come for screening at the recommended time will already have a colorectal cancer, although polyps are a common finding. By removing any polyps that are found, we can reduce the chances that those polyps can later develop into cancer. That's why screening is so important for this type of cancer."

But two big challenges keep the rates for colorectal cancer screening unfortunately low, nationally below 50 percent of adults aged 50 and older. One is education: a lot of people don't know how beneficial, and possibly life-saving, a screening can be. The other challenge is that even when they know about the value of screening for colorectal cancer, many people are put off by the preparation necessary prior to screening.

"Everybody says preparation is a barrier," says Joanne Gersten, RN, MS, pro-gram director for NHCRCSP. "It doesn't have to be. We've found that when people know a few simple tricks to make prep easier, they're much more interested in getting a screening."

Butterly, Gersten, and Stefan Holubar, MD, were at the Colorectal Screening Expo on March 4 in Concord, NH, presented by the Cancer Center, DHMC, and NHCRCSP, and hosted by New Hampshire Public Radio at the NHPR broadcast center at 2 Pillsbury Street. Gersten calls it "an awareness event," with in-depth education available. Dr. Holubar is a screening evangelist. A colorectal cancer survivor himself, he says a screening saved his life. "It absolutely did. They caught it early, and now I've been cancer-free for 12 years."

April 25, 2011