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Health Check: Colorectal cancer awareness

A colonoscopy can detect cancers of the colon. (WJAR)

There's a major push to get more people screened for one of the most preventable cancers: colorectal cancer.

Michelle Moreau, an oncology nurse at The Miriam Hospital since 1995, has helped care for patients with a variety of different cancers. She never thought she’d be a patient there.

"My doctor called me at home to follow up on a new medication, asked me how I was doing and I said, 'Oh, by the way, I just turned 50, you know. I'm going to need a referral to have a colonoscopy,'" recalled Moreau.

So, in July of 2016, she went in for what she thought would be a routine screening.

"I had the day off. I had plans. I was going to do things,” said Moreau. "I found out right then and there. And it my life changed."

And suddenly with her diagnosis of colorectal cancer, the medical team she worked with, became her medical team.

"I, as her medical oncologist, am kind of the quarterback of her treatment in general,” said Dr. Rimini Breakstone, a gastrointestinal oncologist at The Miriam Hospital. “But specifically I managed the chemotherapy aspect of her treatment."

"I had eight cycles of chemotherapy,” said Moreau. “I had high dose radiation and then I had to go through two surgeries."

"The surgeon said to me that had you waited six months to have your colonoscopy, you would have been dealing with a completely different deck of cards."

Problem is, many of those eligible who are eligible to be screened, aren't.

"Somewhere between 65 and 75 percent--75 percent on the high end of folks are getting screened," said Dr. Katherine Dallow of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

That's why the American Cancer Society is partnering with insurers, like Blue Cross, and employers, like Lifespan, to achieve an 80 percent screening rate.

"This is a covered screening and it can be life-saving,” said Dallow.

Recommendations are you have your first screening colonoscopy at age 50. At age 40 for some, says Breakstone.

"Actually if you even have a family history of colon polyps; you don't even have to have a family history of colon cancer to be recommended to start screening earlier."

Moreau has been back to work now for about ten months.

"Her prognosis is excellent, I think she found it early enough that she was able to receive treatment and be cured," said Breakstone who also says Moreau will be followed closely over the next several years.

As for Moreau, she’s hoping her message gets across: "Do not put off getting your colonoscopy. It's so important. If you don't do it for yourself, do it for your family."


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