High Rate of Advanced Colon Cancer Found Among African Americans in Ward 5

Colon Cancer Prevention in the Neighborhood Program Launched, Part of White House Cancer Moonshot

Washington, D.C., October 17, 2016
– Colon cancer is one of the very few preventable cancers, but too many residents from the District of Columbia’s Ward 5 are diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Today, MedStar Washington Hospital Center is launching its “Colon Cancer Prevention in the Neighborhood” program, to increase early detection and prevention of colon cancer. The program focuses on African-Americans in the Ward 5 neighborhood, where a crisis of late-stage colon cancer exists. “Colon Cancer Prevention in the Neighborhood” is part of Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot efforts to ensure cancer care is equitable throughout the nation.

Of 1,314 men and women treated for colon cancer from 2006 to 2011 at the Hospital Center, 892 of them, or 68 percent had stages 2 through 4 colon cancer. Of those, nearly 50 percent of stage 3 and 4 colon cancer patients were from Ward 5, echoing a number of studies that consistently show the highest yearly prevalence of colon cancer in the District is among Ward 5 residents. The data also revealed 91 percent of those with stage 3 and 4 colon cancer were African-Americans. Even more alarming, 97 percent of those presenting with advanced colon cancer had health insurance at the time of their diagnosis.

“It is shocking to see that this many residents who have insurance coverage are presenting late, with a disease that could have been detected earlier with screening,” said Elmer Huerta, MD, MPH, director of the Cancer Preventorium at MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Washington Cancer Institute. “This data validates the need to offer accessible colon cancer screening and education in the community.”

The “Colon Cancer Prevention in the Neighborhood” program will deploy patient navigators to work with Ward 5 residents, building community-based partnerships to deliver colon cancer education, perform risk assessments and distribute easy-to-use fecal immunochemical (FIT) tests that can be done at home. The FIT test measures tiny amounts of blood in the stool that can be a sign of cancer or large polyps. The program will also offer services to connect patients with colonoscopy services, supporting the goal of significantly increasing screening rates among Ward 5 residents. The community-based program is supported by the Herb Gordon Foundation for Gastrointestinal Cancer, the American Cancer Society and private donors.

For the past three years, breast health navigators at MedStar Washington Hospital Center have been actively working in the Ward 5 community to improve breast cancer screening. Hospital Center data found similar results as with colon cancer: 97 percent of the Ward 5 patients with advanced breast cancer were African-American women with health insurance coverage. Thanks to grants from the AVON Breast Cancer Crusade, the breast cancer outreach program is now expanding across the city into Wards 7 and 8.


About the Cancer Moonshot:
During his 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama called on Vice President Biden to lead a new, national Cancer Moonshot, focused on making a decade's worth of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in five years - ultimately striving to end cancer as we know it. A Presidential Memorandum on January 28, 2016 established the Cancer Moonshot Task Force.

 After meeting with experts across the country and the world, Vice President Biden identified areas of focus for the Cancer Moonshot -- based on barriers to progress and opportunities for improving patient outcomes - and announced a first wave of accomplishments at the Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29, 2016 at Howard University in Washington, D.C. On Monday, October 17, Vice President Biden is releasing the final report of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, along with his own Executive Findings after traveling to many of the major nerve centers in the cancer community. He will also unveil a new set of Federal actions, private sector actions, and collaborative partnerships to further advance the goals of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force. More information on the Cancer Moonshot can be found here.


About MedStar Washington Hospital Center:
MedStar Washington Hospital Center is a 926-bed, major teaching and research hospital. It is the largest private, not-for-profit hospital in the nation’s capital, among the 100 largest hospitals in the nation and a major referral center for treating the most complex cases. U.S.News & World Report consistently ranks the hospital’s cardiology and heart surgery program as one of the nation’s best. It also is a respected top facility in the areas of cancer, diabetes & endocrinology, Ear, Nose & Throat, gastroenterology & GI surgery, geriatrics, gynecology, nephrology, pulmonology and urology. It operates MedSTAR, a nationally-verified level I trauma center with a state-of-the-art fleet of helicopters and ambulances, and also operates the region’s only adult Burn Center.

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A Patient with a Purpose: Battle Colon Cancer

My Battle with Colon Cancer

Timing is everything. It’s a lesson Johnette and Jeffrey Powell learned the very hard way —and one they are anxious to pass on to others.

In 2010, the Powells packed up their lives and moved to Washington, D.C. It was a busy year and the-then 50-year-old Johnette was preoccupied with all the details of starting a new life in a new city. “I knew I needed to begin screening for colon cancer at 50—but in the transition from one place to the next, I delayed,” she explains. “It was a year later that I finally found a primary care doctor who sent me to Dr. Mitesh Patel at MedStar Washington Hospital Center for a colonoscopy. I was shocked to hear the results. More than one of the polyps he had removed was malignant. I had colon cancer.”

Surgery to resect a small section of her colon and remove nearby lymph nodes was quickly scheduled. “The cancer had spread beyond my colon,” Johnette explains. “So I spent the next six months receiving chemotherapy every other Friday.”
Today, nearly five years since her diagnosis, Johnette is a very proud and grateful colon cancer survivor. But she understands that any further delay in screening may have resulted in a far worse outcome—and with earlier screening, she may have been spared months of difficult treatment. Now the Powells are talking to everyone they know and telling them to “get checked,” says Jeffrey. It’s their battle cry and people are listening. “We both know all too well that screening saves lives,” he adds.

Screening for Prevention, Early Detection

In fact, screening colonoscopy can not only detect colon cancer early when it is more easily treated, it can prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps before they become malignant. Because risk increase with age, it’s recommended that men and women begin regular screening at age 50. However, for African-American men and women, the recommended age is 45. Some people may need to be screened earlier and more often because they have a higher risk for the disease.

You might be at an increased risk for colon cancer if you:
• Are African-American
• Smoke or use tobacco
• Are overweight or obese
• Are not physically active
• Drink alcohol in excess
• Eat a lot of red meat or processed meat
• Have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
• Have a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

Reduce Your Colon Cancer Risks

In addition to regular screening, making some lifestyle changes can reduce risk of colon cancer—and other cancers as well.
• Maintain a healthy weight and waist size throughout life.
• Be physically active for at least 30 minutes, five days a week.
• Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
• Limit the amount of red meat and processed meat you eat, including pork.
• If you drink alcohol, limit the amount to one drink per day for women, two per day for men.
• Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.

While you’re learning to live a healthier life, take time to learn all you can about your family’s medical history. It wasn’t until after she was diagnosed that Johnette discovered her great aunt had had colon cancer. While a single relative may not be meaningful, it’s important to do your homework to determine your own level of risk for the disease. Then talk to your physician about what you’ve discovered and about when you should begin screening.

Learn more about Johnette's story below. 

Have any questions?

We are here to help! Contact us to find a gastroenterologist and to schedule your screening test today. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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Colon Cancer: A Preventable and Treatable Disease

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S., and it’s also a cancer that’s highly preventable through screening.

If you are aged 50 or older, get screened for colon cancer. But for African-American men and women, the recommended age is 45. Why? Research proves that African Americans risk forming polyps (grape-like growths) sooner than other populations and this group is more likely to be diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other organs.

“Most screenings for colon cancer are normal, but in 20 percent of cases there may be polyps which are usually benign,” says Dr. Thomas Stahl, regional director for the MedStar Colorectal Surgery Program. “All polyps are sent to the lab for a biopsy (test) to determine if there are any cancerous cells.”

Colonoscopy- An Effective Screening Test

Colon cancer usually has no symptoms in its early stage and that’s why the screening is vital. The most effective screening tool is colonoscopy, but people avoid the test because of fear. The traditional bowel prep consists of drinking a four-liter bottle of solution and a liquid diet the day before the test. Adhering to the strict diet is critical to ensure the colon is entirely cleaned out.

“The prep has improved over the years,” says Dr. Mitesh Patel, a gastroenterologist with MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “You don’t have to drink as much liquid as before and we have incorporated Gatorade, which has electrolytes that help decrease nausea.”

Colorectal cancer almost always starts with a polyp - a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum – that doctors can remove during a colonoscopy procedure.

“When a polyp is removed from the body, it no longer has the opportunity to grow and potentially spread,” says Dr. Patel. “Once we discover a polyp, the patient is put on a surveillance program, depending on the number of polyps discovered during the colonoscopy and the size.”

Clinical guidelines say that if a patient has two or fewer polyps, they don’t need another screening for five years. If an individual has three or more polyps, they need to get screened every 3 years.

In addition to the age guidelines, African- Americans and people with a family history of the disease are at a higher risk, so talk to your primary care provider about getting screened early. Don’t put the test off another day, be proactive and get screened!

Have More Questions?

We are here to help! Contact us to find a gastroenterologist and to schedule your screening test today. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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