Physicians must talk, patients listen and act

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The Roles of Doctors and Patients in Colon Cancer Testing


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by Alvaro Carrascal
Sr. Vice President of Cancer Control
American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey

Albany, NY (April 5, 2012) - Did your primary care doctor bring up the subject of colon cancer at your last visit? If you’re 50 or older, it’s definitely something you should be discussing. The American Cancer Society encourages all primary care doctors to recommend colorectal cancer screening to their patients, both men and women, starting at age 50.

Research has shown that a physician’s recommendation is the most powerful single factor in an individual’s decision to be screened for colon cancer.

As important as it is for physicians to bring up the subject of colon cancer testing, it is equally important for patients to be active participants in the discussion. The American Cancer Society guidelines for the prevention and early detection of colon cancer provide a long list of test options. Taking family history and personal preference into account, both doctor and patient should arrive together at the most appropriate test for that individual. This translates into increased compliance, and ultimately, more colon cancers prevented, or catching it in an earlier stage.

It’s important for everyone to be aware of the risk factors for colon cancer. Age - more than 90 percent of cases of colon cancer are diagnosed in people over 50, and oftentimes the cancer is in the later stages. A personal or family history of the disease, and certain genetic factors, also increases risk. If you don’t know your family history, ask. has tools and resources to help you learn your family history.

Colonoscopy is a well-known screening tool available for colon cancer prevention and detection. Colon cancer usually starts with a polyp, or a growth in the lining of the colon. During a colonoscopy, doctors have the ability to check for polyps and remove them – eliminating cancer before if starts. But colonoscopy is not for everybody. It’s important to discuss the pros and cons of colonoscopy and other screening tests for colon cancer with your doctor to determine which method is best for you.

The key is to have that conversation. Many people say that they haven’t been checked for colon cancer because their doctor didn’t recommend screening. Don’t let that be your excuse to die from colon cancer. Take charge of your health and bring up the subject. It could be a lifesaver!

Health insurance should not be an obstacle to getting tested. The New York State Cancer Service Program provides free colon cancer testing for people who do not have insurance or who are underinsured. In New Jersey, the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection (NJ CEED) program provides to low income uninsured New Jersey residents. For more information on free testing, visit the links below. For information on colon cancer or the different tests available, call or visit the American Cancer Society.

Additional Reading:
New York State Cancer Services Program
New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection
American Cancer Society Guide to Colon Cancer


About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing more than $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit