WHITE PLAINS, NY -- If a routine procedure could save your life, wouldn’t you want to go? Each year, about 1,065 men are diagnosed with prostate and colorectal cancer in Westchester County. After lung cancer, prostate and colorectal cancers are the deadliest forms of cancers for men, killing an average of 70 residents each year. Yet colorectal cancer is highly preventable and detectable – if you know the risks and get screened.
Joined by leading professionals from the medical community, County Executive Robert P. Astorino today delivered a heartfelt plea based on his own family history with cancer, calling on men to begin the conversation with their doctors and take control of their health.
“This past December, I lost a dear cousin of mine to colon cancer,” Astorino said. “Her painful passing reminded me that I have a history of cancer in my family. In addition to my cousin, we lost our grandfather to the same cancer and my own dad has battled prostate cancer. These are some of the most preventable and detectable cancers. But had I been screened? No.”
Astorino went for his first colonoscopy in February, receiving a clean bill of health. Now with Father’s Day approaching, Astorino used it as an opportunity to issue a call for all men to take control of their health as part of his ongoing #DadBeThere fatherhood initiative.
As a show of his commitment, he also signed a pledge with the American Cancer Society uniting in a shared goal of reaching 80% of adults aged 50 and older to be screened for colorectal cancer by 2018. In Westchester, 72.1 percent of residents aged 50 and older are up to date with recommended screenings. That’s compared to 69.3 percent statewide and 65 nationally, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Guys have a tendency to live by the adage, ‘no news is good news,’” Astorino said. “But in order for a dad to ‘be there,’ he has to ‘be there,’ alive and healthy.”
The “80 by 2018” pledge is a National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable initiative that hundreds of organizations have signed onto nationwide. If the goal is achieved, 277,000 cases and 203,000 colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented by 2030, according the American Cancer Society.
“The American Cancer Society applauds Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino for uniting around a shared commitment to save lives from cancer, signing the ‘80 by 2018’ pledge and sending a consistent message to the community: Get screened for colorectal cancer,” the organization said in a statement.
Residents are encouraged to join the challenge and promise to undergo a routine screening that may help save their life or a loved one’s. Take the challenge now, and be entered to win a gift card from the Colon Cancer Challenge Foundation (CCCF).
Dr. Thomas K. Weber, president of the CCCF, a nonprofit based in White Plains, said it is especially important that men consider their family history. It could help identify whether someone is at an increased risk and should be screened earlier than the recommended age of 50.
“Colon cancer is highly preventable,” Weber said. “Take the action step and talk to your doctor about being screened. Find out your family history and have a conversation with your doctor. Those are the most important next steps for prevention, detection and treatment.”
Thankfully, mortality rates for colorectal and prostate cancers continue to decline due to improvements in prevention, early detection and treatment. Colorectal cancer screening prevented about half of the expected new cases and deaths during 2003-2007, according to the CDC.
But there’s still a long way to go, and room for improvement.
Dr. Mitchell Benson, head of Urologic Oncology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, said that prostate cancer is a spectrum of diseases, and that we don’t want to make the mistake of assuming that prostate cancer is never a lethal disease.
“It remains a leading cause of cancer death in men. Early detection is the only way of preventing prostate cancer deaths,” said Benson, a Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Urology at Columbia University Medical Center who practices urology with the NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group and Columbia Doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville. “Although over treatment remains a concern, there is no such thing as over diagnosis. Prostate cancer risk can be determined and treatment individually stratified, but risk can only be determined after diagnosis. We must continue screening to decrease prostate cancer mortality.”
For any residents who need help obtaining health insurance, the Westchester County Department of Health has trained, certified “Navigators” available to provide assistance. Navigator services are free, available in English and Spanish, and offered at 25 enrollment sites across the county. To meet with a Navigator, residents can call (914) 813-5192 or visit health.westchestergov.com for more information.
“Access to health care coverage is the very first step needed in ensuring early prevention and detection,” said Dr. Sherlita Amler, Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Health. “Quality health care is available in Westchester, and the Health Department is here to help you take that first step.”
Call to action
Talk to your doctor about which cancer screenings may be right for you. Generally, it is recommended that men get screened for colorectal cancer between the ages of 50 and 75. It is also important to know your family’s cancer history and to do as much as possible to reduce your risk factors. Here are some steps you can take to keep healthy and live a long life:
- Stop smoking and avoid tobacco
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Be physically active
- Follow a healthy diet that includes whole grains and 2-1/2 cups of vegetables and fruits a day
- Limit the amount of red and processed meat and alcohol you consume
- See your doctor for regular check-ups and recommended annual screenings