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UPMC Altoona and Blair Gastroenterology Associates Collaborate to Increase Colorectal Screenings

ALTOONA, March 1, 2017 A busy 40-year-old mother of two children, Dana Thompson ignored blood in her stools for months until the frequency and amount increased.

“When I casually mentioned it to my husband who is a pharmacist, he freaked,” Dana, now 51, says. “It didn’t cross my mind that rectal bleeding demands immediate attention—no matter how busy you think you are. I am fortunate to be cancer-free 11 years later.”

Today, Dana talks about her ordeal so others are more aware, receive appropriate screening and act more quickly. Her physicians at Blair Gastroenterology Associates, UPMC Altoona and the American Cancer Society made a commitment to raise the rate of colorectal screening to 80 percent by 2018 in the area.

“Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. However, it’s one of the most preventable cancers,” says Altoona gastroenterologist Edmond Bouassaf, M.D., who serves as the physician champion of the local effort which is among more than 1,000 organizations nationally joining the “80% by 2018” movement, according to the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable.

“If we can achieve the ‘80% by 2018’ goal across the country,” Bouassaf says, “We can prevent more than 20,000 colorectal cancer deaths per year.”

Early detection is key and most colorectal cancers develop first as polyps—abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum—that may become cancerous if not removed. Screening can help identify cancerous and precancerous changes before a patient even experiences any symptoms,” he says. “When colorectal cancer is found early, it often is much easier to treat and can often be cured.”

The American Cancer Society recommends that most people have their first colon cancer screening at age 50. In addition to speaking with your doctor, many resources are available at cancer.org to better prepare for your conversation and further educate yourself on risk factors. Because as Dana’s experience shows, colon cancer can occur earlier than the recommended screening age of 50.

“Once I told my husband, my diagnosis and treatment occurred rapidly because of the severity of my symptoms. I had a colonoscopy within a week and a polyp sent for testing. A week later, the tests showed cancer. I then had surgery to have 12 inches of my lower bowel removed surrounding the polyp. Fortunately, the surgeon was able to reconnect the bowel. If I had reported my symptoms earlier, the surgery may have been avoided. They could have removed the polyp before it became cancerous.”

She passionately urges everyone to be more informed and less embarrassed to speak of changes in bowel habits. She says, “Rectal bleeding is NOT normal. It’s a red flag that demands immediate action. Don’t be embarrassed.”

About UPMC Community Benefits

Health screenings are a small part of the more than $892 million a year that UPMC provides in total IRS-defined community benefits, including more care to the Pittsburgh region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution. Over the past five years, UPMC has dedicated nearly $4 billion to community-focused programs and services, making a substantial impact for the well-being of the people who live, work, learn and raise their families in western Pennsylvania. The complete UPMC Community Benefits Report is available online at upmc.com.

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