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A Resolution for Good Health

December 3, 2018

We often avoid thinking about things that are scary or unpleasant, especially when we feel like we do not have any control over them or do not understand them. When it comes to cancer, the numbers can be frightening. More than 16,000 New Jerseyans die each year of cancer, with lung and colorectal cancers as two of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in our state. But we know a lot more about these cancers than just how deadly they are – we know how to detect them early, how to treat them, and in some cases how to prevent them from ever occurring in the first place.

Colorectal and lung cancers usually do not cause any symptoms until they have grown for a long time and start to spread through the body, typically being diagnosed at a later stage of disease making them much harder to treat and cure.

The good news is that colorectal and lung cancers usually form over a long period of time, and there are effective treatments for cancers detected at early stages of development. Undergoing screening is the best way to detect the cancer as early as possible and get treatment started when it can be most effective. The cost of colorectal cancer screening is often covered through Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans, as is lung cancer screening, for those at the highest risk of developing these cancers.

To aid in increasing the awareness of the importance of screening, ScreenNJ was recently developed under the leadership of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Health. The initiative is a collaboration of organizations across the state committed to reducing cancer incidence and mortality through outcomes‐oriented, evidence‐based cancer prevention and screening programs. ScreenNJ serves as a resource for the general public to find local colorectal and lung screening programs, and to educate them about the types of testing and benefits.

For colorectal cancer, age is a major risk factor, as is having at least one family member with colorectal cancer.  – Those aged 45 to 75 years old should speak to their doctor about the screening option that is best for them.   One such option is a colonoscopy, a procedure that can not only check for existing cancers but can also find and remove precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. Another option is a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), a simple take-home test that doesn’t require any special preparation or time off from work. Other screening tests are also available.  

For lung cancer, both age and smoking history influence one’s risk of developing cancer. Current smokers or those who quit smoking within the last 15 years, who are between the ages of 55 and 80 may be at higher risk of lung cancer. Those at risk should speak with their healthcare professional about getting screened every year with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan.  Current smokers can reduce their risk of developing lung cancer by quitting smoking now. Other benefits of smoking cessation include reduced risk for heart disease and stroke. The Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program is a great resource for tobacco cessation, although other programs and tools are also available.

In this New Year, resolve to ask your doctor about colorectal and lung cancer screening – it’s one resolution you’ll benefit from for years to come.   

To learn more about colorectal and lung cancer screening options, and to find screening providers in your area, visit the ScreenNJ website (www.screennj.org).

Anita Y. Kinney, PhD, RN, is the Associate Director for Cancer Health Equity at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Director of the Center for Cancer Health Disparities at Rutgers School of Public Health. Emily Carey PerezdeAlejo is the ScreenNJ Program Administrator.

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