Cancer Center Finds Nearly Third of D.C. Uninsured, Underinsured DC Residents Have Precancerous Conditions

WASHINGTON (March 24) -- Howard University Cancer Center physicians have found that nearly one or every three District of Columbia residents who received a colon cancer screening during a six-month study were found to have a precancerous lesion, a rate higher than the national average.

Dr. Duane Smoot, chief of the Gastroenterology Division of Howard University Hospital Cancer Center and head of the DC Screen for Life program at the hospital, announced the finding during a joint press conference Monday with Georgetown University Hospital.
DC Screen for Life provides free colonoscopies and other colon screening for District residents between ages 50 and 64 at Howard University Hospital and Georgetown University Hospital.  The program is sponsored by the DC Cancer Consortium, a non-profit agency that promotes cancer prevention.

Of the 150 people tested in the study, 45 were found to have adenomas or precancerous lesions, which were removed, Smoot said. If left untreated, the lesions, or polyps, can turn into cancer, doctors said.

“Colon cancer is one of the deadliest cancers but also one of the most preventable,” Smoot said.

Dr. Adeyinka Laiyemo, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health and an attending physician at Howard's Cancer Center, analyzed the data.

The American Cancer Society recommends screening for most people at age 50, but people with a family history of the disease should be screened at 45, Laiyemo said.
Usually, the percentage of people in the general population found to have polyps during routine screening is 20 percent to 25 percent, said Dr. Oscar E. Streeter, the chair of Radiation Oncology at Howard.

Streeter had a polyp removed in September. His mother-in-law died of colon cancer, he said.

During the news conference, Streeter pointed out that a colonoscopy, including removal of any polyps under the Screen for Life program, costs about $800 compared with up to $64,000 for surgery, radiation and chemotherapy if a polyp is left untreated and becomes cancerous.

“The screenings are not only saving money, though, they are saving lives,” he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third leading cancer in the nation; roughly 5 percent, or one in 20 people, will develop it. It is the second leading cause of death from cancer and strikes African Americans disproportionately.

Physicians have no idea why African Americans are affected by colon cancer in such high numbers, Smoot said.  Diet, lack of exercise, a family history of cancer and lack of access to medical care may play a part, he said.

He urged everyone 50 and over to get screened.

To schedule an appointment, call Howard University Hospital at 202-865-7741.

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