The city has announced that residents are getting the message about the importance of colonoscopies with the rate now at 67 percent, compared to 42 percent in 2003.
“Colonoscopy screenings save lives,” said city health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “Two-thirds of New Yorkers are getting screening, but one-third is not.”
The data was announced last week at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn in conjunction with the city’s partnership with the Citywide Colon Cancer Control Coalition.
Colonoscopy is a test that allows doctors to look at the inner lining of the large intestine. A flexible tube is used to help find polyps, tumors and inflammation. The test takes about 30 minutes and patients can be put under anesthesia for the procedure.
Colon cancer is one of the most common and deadly of cancers, but it is also 90 percent curable if found at an early stage. Health officials recommend people begin screenings at the age of 50 and every 10 years after that or sooner if there are concerns.
Over the last three years, the city has been tracking colonoscopy rates and led a drive to eliminate racial disparities. Over the past decade the DOH reports the difference in rates between whites, Asian, African Americans and Hispanics has been eliminated. In 2003, the Asian test rate was 24 percent; African Americans were at 35 percent and Hispanics at 38 percent, compared to whites at 48 percent. Today, the rates are statistically the same.
The DOH indicates, however, that the progress has been slower among the Russian-speaking community, whose colonoscopy rate of 56 percent is 10 percent below the city average. Farley said attempts are being made to reach out to this group.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, who emigrated from the Soviet Union, said that such prevention programs did not exist in Russia and the immigrants are unaware of the procedure. “With the help of the Department of Health and the local hospitals, we can educate the Russian-speaking community in preventative screenings,” Brook-Krasny said.
Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer, killing about 1,400 New Yorkers every year. In the last five years, the city’s Health and Hospital Corp. facilities — including Elmhurst Hospital and Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica — performed more than 105,000 colonoscopies
HHC President Alan Aviles noted that since 2003, his agency has aggressively urged patients over 50 to get a colonoscopy and has increased the number of tests by almost 400 percent.
Staten Island and Manhattan led the boroughs in the largest percentage of residents who have had the screening with 72 percent. Queens and Brooklyn followed with 66 percent, followed by the Bronx with 64 percent.
Dr. Sang Kim, associate program director of gastroenterology at New York Hospital Queens in Flushing, leads the medical team performing colonoscopies. Kim has also seen an increase in the number of tests.
“We are very pleased and the outcome has been good,” he said.
He noted it’s typical not to have symptoms with colorectal cancer and pointed to a case at NYHQ. It involved a Korean man in his 50s who attended an outreach health program that recommended colonoscopies. “He decided to have the test and we found he had a Stage 1 rectal carcinoma,” Kim said. “We removed it and it cured him. Had he waited a year, he would have needed radiation, chemotherapy and a colostomy bag.”
Had the man not had the testing, it more than likely would have eventually cost him his life, the doctor added.
“It is a wonderful feeling for us when this kind of outcome happens,” Kim added.
To reduce the risk of colon cancer, the DOH recommends not to smoke, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat a diet rich in fiber, fruits and vegetables and get checked through screening.
Kim noted that family history also plays a role, so people with a genetic tendency should have a colonoscopy at an earlier age, even at 40.
For more information on where to go for a screening, call 311.