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Vecchio and Hyman Promote Colorectal Cancer Awareness During March

Neil Hyman, M.D., and James Vecchio, M.D.
Vermont Cancer Center members Neil Hyman, M.D., professor of surgery (left), and James Vecchio, M.D., professor of medicine and gastroenterologist, are promoting National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. (Photo: UVM Medical Photography)

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and James Vecchio, M.D., and Neil Hyman, M.D., of the Vermont Cancer Center at the University of Vermont and Fletcher Allen Health Care are getting the word out about colon and rectal cancer prevention, detection, and screening.

Vecchio, a UVM professor of medicine and Fletcher Allen gastroenterologist, and Hyman, a professor of surgery at UVM and colorectal surgeon at Fletcher Allen, recognize the challenges of accessing screening in a largely rural state and are hopeful that, with more outreach, Vermont will continue to see colorectal screening rates increase. The pair appeared on the UVM Extension program Across the Fence on WCAX-TV on March 13, 2014 to discuss the importance of screening for colon and rectal cancer, as well to share key information about prevention and treatment.

Nationally, about one in three adults between the ages of 50 and 75 years old – the age range recommended for colorectal cancer screening – are not getting screened for colorectal cancer, despite statistics that clearly show that early detection is the key to prevention and successful treatment. Recommended screening tests include high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (stool test), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy; a primary care provider can determine which test best suits each patient. With early detection, precancerous polyps can easily be removed, eliminating risk for development of cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among men and women combined in the United States. However, studies show that screening for colorectal cancer decreases rates of death from the disease.   Even with this knowledge, many patients are hesitant about screening, and Drs. Vecchio and Hyman are aiming to demystify the often ill-reputed colorectal screening process and encourage everyone age 50 and over to get screened (earlier if you have familial risk).  They shared with WCAX’s Judy Simpson that patients undergoing the most common of colorectal cancer screenings, a colonoscopy, can receive sedation which should make them at ease and comfortable during and after the procedure.  Preparation for the colonoscopy can be burdensome, but Vecchio and Hyman both stress that a proper cleanse is absolutely critical to getting a clear assessment of colon tissue.

In addition to screening, Vecchio and Hyman note that certain lifestyle factors that can significantly impact risk for colorectal cancer, including smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and exercise. People with a family history of colon cancer should talk to their doctor about screening earlier than age 50, as there is also a genetic component to colorectal cancer risk.

“Bottom line,” say Vecchio and Hyman, “is get screened and encourage your loved ones to get screened – it might just save a life.”

Vecchio and Hyman’s “Across the Fence” segment will be posted on the UVM Extension website the week of March 17, 2014. To learn more about preparing for a colonoscopy or understanding colorectal cancer risk, see a recent post by Vecchio on Fletcher Allen Health Care’s "Healthsource" blog.