Undetected cancer

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Many southern Brooklyn residents are not undergoing the procedure necessary to detect cancer.

According to the city Health Department’s latest series of Community Health Surveys, 52.5 percent of Coney Island adults aged 50 and older have not had a colonoscopy in the last 10 years. That’s much higher than the figure for all five boroughs – 38 percent.

Preventative screenings are necessary because cancer remains a leading cause of death in New York City.

“Prevention is key,” explained Dr. Audrey Saitta, chair of radiation oncology at Lutheran Medical Center on 55th Street and Second Avenue.

Without regular screenings, “the chances are that it’s not at an early stage that we can intervene and cure the patient,” Saitta said.

Many Brooklynites avoid screenings – and doctors – because of financial reasons.

“Sometimes insurance companies give them a little difficulty,” Saitta said.

Even worse, “A lot of the patients in our area don’t even have insurance,” Saitta explained.

Many clinics and hospitals, including Lutheran, offer free screenings to those without insurance.

Oftentimes, Brooklynites forgo colonoscopies and other cancer screenings because they believe the procedures will be painful or they fear the results.

But Saitta warned that delaying the screenings could have fatal consequences.

“If they start their screenings earlier, they are going to have more of a chance of catching the cancer, as opposed to not going and waiting for a symptom and then finding that it’s too late. By the time a symptom comes, it may already be advanced,” Saitta said.

Health officials say colonoscopies are safe and painless. The 25-minute procedure examines the entire colon and can detect more than 95 percent of early colon cancer cases.

If a polyp, a usually nonmalignant growth, is found during the procedure, a doctor can remove it right then and there, preventing it from developing into cancer.

A colonoscopy is recommended for people who are 50 years of age or older once every 10 years.

People with a family history of colon cancer are also encouraged to have a colonoscopy — even if they are not yet 50 years old.

For information about scheduling cancer screenings, contact Lutheran’s Radiation Oncology department at 718-630-7065.

Updated 3:32 pm, October 19, 2011
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