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BIDMC Helps Raise Awareness About the Importance of Colonoscopies

Patients from Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center benefit from free screenings

BOSTON - It's 7:00 a.m. and Waltham resident Rene Marin is a little nervous as he arrives at the Digestive Disease Center/Center for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy on Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Stoneman 3.

Marin checks in to receive his first ever colonoscopy and he's not so much nervous about the test itself, but more about what the doctor might find.

"He doesn't have a family history of colon cancer and he's not showing any symptoms that might cause us to be concerned," says Alphonso Brown, MD, the gastroenterologist who will perform Marin's procedure. "But, it's important that he's here. He's 52 and we want people to start coming in for screenings starting at 50."

Colorectal cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death among men and women nationwide, so the colonoscopy is a pretty important test to get. Colorectal cancers can be prevented with early detection in 95 percent of patients screened, but still only half of Americans who should get screened actually do.

Marin is one of six patients from Allston-Brighton's Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center who are receiving free colonoscopies at BIDMC on National Colorectal Cancer Awareness and Screening Day. The event is sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the American Gastroenterological Association and is conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No stranger to providing free colorectal cancer screenings for the uninsured or under insured, BIDMC was one of the first institutions to sign on to the annual Screening Day event. Now in its fourth year, the screenings are being held in 23 states nationwide, including Massachusetts.

"This program has been highly successful in detecting problems and providing the level of care we want for all patients" says Gastroenterology Administrative Director Eileen Joyce.

By 9:00 a.m., Marin is dressed again and waiting in the recovery area to speak with Brown. "The test was easy," he says through Spanish interpreter, Ana Torres. "I would recommend to anyone to have this done because it's better to know what's going on. That way you can do something about it."

Just then Brown arrives. The colonoscopy has revealed two small polyps, which were removed and sent for biopsy. "That's standard procedure," Brown tells Marin. "Any polyps we see, we remove them." He goes onto explain that because polyps were found, Marin will now need to come in every five years for a colonoscopy, rather than every ten years for patients for whom no polyps are found.

"Not all polyps are cancerous, but all colon cancer does start with a polyp," says Brown. "So when we find polyps we want to see those patients more often as a preventive measure. The screenings have a cumulative preventive effect and make it significantly less likely that patients will develop a deadly cancer."

Four days later Marin's biopsy results are back. Of the two polyps removed, one was benign and the other was a precancerous adenoma. While not cancerous, adenomas have the potential to develop into cancer.

"It was great to pick this up for this patient and remove the polyp before it could become cancerous," says Brown. "This is a perfect example of why screening is recommended starting at age 50."

In addition to Brown, gastroenterologists James Rabb, MD, Mandeep Sawhney, MD and Jacqueline Wolf, MD performed colonoscopies during the National Colorectal Cancer Awareness and Screening Day event.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and currently ranks third in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit www.bidmc.org.