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News Room: Press Releases

Colon Cancer: Preventable. Treatable. Beatable.

While March may best be known for St. Patrick’s Day with dancing leprechauns and kelly green shamrocks, March is also dedicated to Colon Cancer Awareness.

As uncomfortable as talking about this topic may be, Keith Meslin, MD, board-certified colon, rectal and general surgeon reminds everyone that “being proactive and getting colonoscopies are essential to colon health.”

The American Cancer Society lists colorectal cancer as the third most common cancer in American men and women. Many pre-cancerous polyps (abnormal growths) develop into cancer if they go unchecked. If left undiagnosed, this silent killer can quickly spread to the lymph nodes, and at this stage, colon cancer ranks as the number two killer in America.

How can you protect yourself? Dr. Meslin answers these frequently asked questions:

Why is screening so important?

  • Colon polyps, the precursor to colon cancer, most often exhibit few if any symptoms.
  • When caught early, these pre-cancerous polyps can be endoscopically removed.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment has been proven to reduce death rates dramatically.

Should you get checked?

  • While colon cancer can strike at any age, nine out of 10 new cases are in people age 50 or older.
  • Starting at age 50 a colonoscopy should be done every 1 to 2 years.
  • High-risk patients, such as those with a family history of colon cancer and diseases that increase the risk of colon cancer such as ulcerative colitis, should pay even closer attention to get the appropriate screenings.
  • If there are any signs or symptoms such as rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits with new constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain or weight loss, a colonoscopy is warranted despite the age or family history of the patient.
  • In healthy people without risks, disease, or symptoms, it is recommended to have a yearly fecal occult blood test and a colonoscopy every 5 to 7 years starting at age 50.

What to expect with a colonoscopy?

  • You will be given a bowel preparation medication the day before the exam to empty out your colon.
  • You will be given sedation intravenously to keep you comfortable during the exam. Examination of your colon typically takes about 30 minutes.
  • The doctor will insert a long flexible scope into your rectum and is able to visualize the lining of the colon on a video screen.
  • Biopsies of any abnormalities and removal of polyps can be performed at the time of the examination.

What if I have cancer?

  • If discovered early, colon cancer can often be cured with surgery alone.
  • With more advanced cancers, the treatment is much more involved and often requires radiation or chemotherapy, with no guarantee of cure.
  • Colon re-sections can now be performed laparoscopically or robotically with minimally invasive techniques with the same results of open surgery.

In conclusion, colon cancer is treatable, preventable and beatable. You may have real excuses as to why you can’t get a screening, but you take your health in your own hands. Talk to your doctor and schedule a screening. It could save your life. 

As one of New Jersey’s largest health systems, Virtua helps people be well, get well and stay well through a comprehensive range of health care services. Services are delivered through three health and wellness centers, three fitness centers, three acute care hospitals, primary and specialty physician practices with more than 240 physicians, urgent care centers, nine ambulatory surgery centers, home health services, two long-term care and rehabilitation centers, 12 paramedic units and a wide range of outpatient services. A leader in maternal and child health services, Virtua delivers more than 8,000 babies a year. Virtua also provides employment and wellness services to 1,700 businesses and corporations. An innovator in clinical and information technology such as electronic medical records, Virtua is recognized for its ground-breaking partnerships with GE Healthcare, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Fox Chase Cancer Center. Virtua employs more than 8,700 people and has been honored as the #1 Best Place to Work in the Delaware Valley every year since 2007. It is the recipient of the Consumer Choice Award from the National Research Corporation. For more information, visit or