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Hospital offers free colorectal cancer screening kits

WARREN — Stories about COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, have overshadowed Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Trumbull Regional Medical Center doesn’t want people to lose sight of the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

The Steward Health Care System this month is distributing free colorectal cancer screening kits at the hospital and at the Steward Laboratory Services sites in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

“It’s one of the top three cancers in the country and it’s curable when caught early,” said Dr. Roger Tokars of Trumbull Regional. “We can take it out of the top three. We just have to have people aware of it.”

Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts either in the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer often are grouped together because of their similarities, including generally beginning as polyps in the colon or rectum.

“So if you remove the polyps, you prevent the cancers,” Tokars said.

Nationally, about 100,000 people per year get colon cancer and about 50,000 per year contract rectal cancer, he said.

“Colorectal cancer is expected to cause 53,000 deaths in 2020,” he said. “That speaks for itself.”

Darla Habosky, lead radiation therapist at Trumbull, said the kits allow people to collect fecal samples in the privacy of their own home. The kits contain instructions and information, a registration form, materials to collect the samples and a collection mailer already addressed to the Steward Outreach Laboratory in Poland.

“It’s easy. They come get a free kit,” Habosky said.

The lab checks the stool for traces of blood that cannot be seen with the naked eye. If blood is found, the next step is a colonoscopy to check for polyps, Luana Andamasaris, radiation oncology nurse, said.

Colonoscopies already are recommended for anyone 45 and older, and to be done every 10 years, or more frequently if polyps were found and removed, she said.

Additional treatment would depend on the type of cancer found and how advanced it is. It could include radiation and chemotherapy, she said.

Because the screening involves collecting fecal samples, it becomes easy for people to put it off, or to self-diagnose their symptoms as hemorrhoids. Besides blood in the stool, other symptoms include pain during bowel movements, changes in the size of stool, constipation and diarrhea. Family history and age also are risk factors.

“Patients are hesitant to follow through because nobody wants to talk about colons and bowels and rectums,” Andamasaris said. “It’s not advisable to procrastinate.

“We gave out about 250 of these (kits) last year,” Andamasaris said. “We’re expecting the same this year.”

Last year, about 75 to 80 percent of the kits were returned with samples, and only about 10 positive results were found, she said.

Ways to help prevent colorectal cancer are to eat a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables and fewer red meats, maintain a healthy weight, minimize alcohol consumption and don’t smoke, she said.

Tokars said cases of colorectal cancer are on the rise.

“It’s frequency is increasing in people who are under 55 years old, by 1 percent a year,” he said. Factors that likely play into that include less active lifestyles, poorer diets with less fiber and obesity, he said.

Also, when you wipe after a bowel movement, always look at the toilet paper for blood, Tokars said. If it’s visible, it needs to be checked.

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